Review: “Midnight in Austenland” by Shannon Hale

For the love of books

Although it is a companion novel to Austenland, Midnight in Austenland is quite different from its precursor.  Shannon Hale seems to attack twice as hard this time with surprising wit from every corner, a new intrepid heroine, and more bows to Jane Austen(story-wise).  In Austenland, a bachelorette found true love in an Austen theme park.  In Midnight in Austenland, a mom and divorcée wants to reignite her numb heart with the sensations of a Jane Austen novel.  Instead, she lands in the middle of a real murder and true love, both of which are completely unexpected.  Simply put, Midnight in Austenland is darker, deeper, and even funnier than Austenland.

Despite being based partly on Northanger Abbey, the plots circles around Charlotte, one very devoted mother and former wife who will quickly earn the reader’s full respect.  She goes to “Austenland” to mend her shattered and completely broken heart, to get over her unfaithful ex-husband and his new wife.  Charlotte becomes immersed in the depths of Regency habits and customs, just like Jane did in Austenland.  In most ways, the story of Midnight in Austenland is entirely separate from that of Austenland, since only a few familiar characters reappear during the course of events.  Moreover, this time there is no infatuation with Mr. Darcy to push the heroine to think or do bold things.

Charlotte is a modern woman who recognizes her roles in the real world and never tries to dissuade herself from assuming her true responsibilities; she never forgets herself, even when she’s role-playing or falling for the villain.  Regardless, she takes part in a love triangle and learns to accept herself, to forgive her ex as well as herself for their one-sided failure of a marriage.  More than one mystery is solved, as Charlotte’s concern for her children and herself strengthens into the epitome of confidence and resolve.

Hale verbally whacks Charlotte’s ex with one of the best threats/speeches ever written toward a womanizing husband, emboldens feminine horizons with more self-defense martial arts moves, and points out how terribly wrong society is about relationships, let alone divorces and marriages.  The result is a classy, captivating spin on the rigors of heroism, feminism, etiquette, and detective tales. Charlotte is clever, nice, and pretty, but Hale takes her “ordinary” protagonist and makes the reader see beyond the surface and appreciate every side of the character’s personality.  Midnight in Austenland is very humorous and romantic, but it is also optimistic and promotes self-esteem in all women (no matter who they are) while Jane Austen is once again remembered fondly in the imaginary realm of lost times for all who wish to belong to the story-worlds she created.

Original review: Part 1: A murder mystery plunges ‘Midnight in Austenland’ into humorous darknessPart 2: A murder mystery plunges ‘Midnight in Austenland’ into humorous darkness, Examiner.com

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