Amazon | Goodreads
Contemporary/Mystery, 277 pages
Published January 31st 2012 by Bloomsbury USA
I was so excited to jump into this one because of how much I loved Austenland. Austenland was another of the books I read in that initial "summer of Jane" I told you about (it came after Sanditon, when I'd learned to hope Austen adaptations could be good, and Austenland seemed to confirm that), and I felt like Hale really captured something; it was this perfect slice of what it is to be a die-hard Janeite. I mean, even when you're looking at what's going on and thinking 'This is crazy,' you still
And then I realized this was going to be a spin on Northanger Abbey. I think this is the deciding factor for most readers - some of you will have just cringed, in which case you may not want to pick this up. Some of you perked up, maybe even said Finally!, in which case, you should go grab a copy soonish.
I fall firmly in the latter category. I love Northanger something fierce, and I don't understand why everyone hates on my itty bitty Catherine. I'm not going to let this become a review of Northanger, so I'll just say, to me, NA is Jane at her most fun, and I always say you can practically feel her smiling on the page - it's a book that seems like the author had fun writing, so I have fun reading. So, as I was sitting in a comfy chair on my patio, reading Midnight in Austenland and soaking up the sun*, there came a moment where I started seeing some similarities between Charlotte and Catherine, and I sat up in my comfy chair and said (aloud) "This is f#cking Northanger Abbey!"
See, this? This is why my neighbors think I'm crazy...
Anyway, I sat up, excited that it was going to be Northanger, and I think I started reading a little faster. But at the same time, I was hesitant, because the thing is: Charlotte is so much older than Catherine. I know how that sounds, but really - there are things I'll accept in a giddy excitable teenager, just out of her house for the first time and getting to flirt with boys, that I will not accept from a GROWN WOMAN, who in other respects seems to be very level-headed and business minded.
What I'm saying is, it was a risk to take on Northanger in a modern setting, with a modern, middle-aged woman.
And I don't know that it's a risk that completely worked, honestly. Now, before I delve into the negatives, I want to make it clear that I did really enjoy this. It had the same Janeite drive and touch of whimsy that Austenland did, but it's darker in tone and atmosphere, to suit NA. Reality is starting to intrude on Pembrook Park in a big way, and Charlotte - and the reader - spend much of the time wondering just how dark and real things will get, just how far characters will go. I really liked that the tone mirrors NA and adds that layer, and I liked the realistic feel the darker tone gave the story and atmosphere, where things are supposed to be so fantasized and light.
(You knew there was a but, right?)
But this walks a very fine line between being a serious mystery and a caricature of one, and until you realize which way the chips are going to fall (whether this is happening or Charlotte is pulling a Catherine), it's hard to decide whether to like Charlotte and go with her, or to think she's a hysterical, high-strung nutjob, looking for drama where there is none.** I'm not going to spoil it and tell you which is true (sane Charlotte/crazy world or crazy Charlotte/sane world), but I will say that every time I'd think the story was straying too far into crazy town, Hale would remind me that everything actually did make sense. It's hard to explain without giving something away, but basically Hale has this way of seamlessly and judiciously inserting these little reflections and bits of info that make you look at things more from Charlotte's perspective and say, Yeah, maybe she's onto something... and it would always make me giggle a bit - every time I thought I was going to escape Crazytown, Charlotte would pull me back in until I was just in it, saying, Yeah, let's do this! Crazy town banana pants!
Ugh, I'm making a mess of this.
Basically, it's crazy and it's not; it's dark and intense, and light and fluffy; it's completely what I expected and not what I expected at all... It was a sometimes-strange read that I questioned but thoroughly enjoyed, and even though things have kinda gone pear-shaped at Pembrook, I still want to visit Austenland.
So if you liked Northanger or Austenland, read it. If you didn't, don't.
And if this made any sense, give me a thumbs up or a nod, or something...
**I guess this is the problem people have with Northanger Abbey, come to think of it. But where I normally think "Catherine, you so silly!" I was instead thinking "Charlotte, what the eff is wrong with you, woman?!"
*still pale though.