Title: Midnight in Austenland.
Author: Shannon Hale.
Genre: Fiction, chick lit, romance, mystery, humour.
Publication Date: 2012.
Summary: Charlotte Kinder is in need of true escape when she heads from Ohio to Pembrook Park, a Jane Austen-themed retreat in the British countryside. But as it turns out, this vacation is no time to relax. Hearts are racing and stomachs fluttering in a tangle of intrigues - real and pretend, sinister and romantic - increasingly tough to sort out. It's midnight in Austenland, and Charlotte is about to prove herself a heroine worthy of Austen herself.
My rating: 5.5/10
♥ Once numbness shuts down a damaged heart, a miracle is required to restart it. Things would prove rough for our heroine. Her only hope was Jane Austen.
♥ The corset was as stiff as a life vest. She couldn’t lean back comfortably or bend easily to scratch her ankle. Which was the point, she supposed. Austen ladies didn’t have itchy ankles or desires to lounge. Austen ladies were grandly pretty—like marble statues.
♥ Charlotte was relieved she wouldn’t have to carry around the burden of his last name, not here anyway. She’d kept it after the divorce because it also belonged to her children. But it pinched, like Mrs. Wattlesbrook’s smile. It reminded her each time she reported her name to the bank teller or insurance agent that she’d been someone else once, a missus to someone’s mister. She’d been a wife, a lover, a companion—so much so that she’d abandoned her parents’ name and taken his. Become for him.
An unwanted name was a heavy thing to bear.
♥ “Can I ask you a quick question? What does ‘Regency’ mean?”
Mrs. Wattlesbrook pressed her lips then inhaled deeply through her nostrils. “In 1811, King George III was declared unfit, and his son ruled by proxy for nine years. He was the Prince Regent, and thus this era is known as ‘the Regency.’ ”
“Aha! I am so clueless. Why was King George unfit?”
“Because he succumbed to madness.”
♥ Eddie offered his arm to his sister and escorted her into the dining room, where Charlotte resolved to be witty and wonderful all dinner long.
♥ She pulled a pillow over her head and waited to die. When an hour passed and she still wasn’t dead, she got up and pruned the rosebushes.
♥ It felt very late when Charlotte fell into bed. Buried-alive late, caffeine-is-useless-at-this-point late. She found it easier to fall asleep now that it was well past midnight in Austenland. It’s hard to keep questions spinning in your brain when thoughts are even heavier than eyelids. Even stories need a chance to sleep.
♥ Charlotte’s mother heard the screams from next door. She unmasked the villains, turned the lights back on, and sent Sam home and Tommy to his room. Tommy laughed all the way there.
At school on Monday, her friends summed up the event as “So fun. I was so scared. Tommy is so cool!” The terror forgotten, the girls swooned into the arms of sublime crush.
And Charlotte thought, Why are girls stupid?
Charlotte didn’t answer herself, and she didn’t forget. She’ll never forget.
♥ “Me too. Or in ten years anyway. Since I’m only twenty-eight.”
“Oh,” said Charlotte. She hadn’t realized they could fudge their age as well as their name. Age seemed like such an indisputable thing, something branded into the wrinkle between her eyes. If she was in a place where a woman of fifty could just say, “I’m twenty-eight,” then what else was possible?
♥ Mrs. Wattlesbrook’s forehead creased, but she looked back at her papers. “Quite so.” She began to write.
Charlotte felt invisible. She whispered something that might have been “thank you” or “I’ll just go now,” or possibly “Moses supposes his toeses are roses.” She curtsied as she left, though no one saw.
♥ “Have you been reading Gothic novels, Charlotte? You know what Mother would say. Women should not indulge in dark fantasies. It disrupts the proper workings of the womb.”
Charlotte snorted and coughed at once, she was so surprised. “The proper workings of the womb?”
Eddie was trying very hard not to laugh. “Indeed.”
“Never fear, protecting my womb from Gothic novels is my first priority.”
“I am much relieved.”
♥ "Over fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce. I’m sure at school they’re just one of the crowd.”
Could that statistic really be true? Among Charlotte’s acquaintances, about 10 percent of the marrieds had divorced. Before James had left, divorce had seemed distant and improbable. Besides, statistics felt as irrelevant as a nice wool blanket in the vacuum of space. Let’s look at a mother who is standing in a hospital waiting room, a doctor telling her that her child has died from a rare disease. Is it a comfort for her to hear that only one in five million children contract it?
Some postdivorce statistics:
• James saw the children 75 percent less than before.
• He missed 85 percent of their afterschool woes.
• He was absent for 99 percent of their family dinners.
Screw statistics. One hundred percent of Charlotte’s marriage had ended in divorce, and for her, that was the only number that meant anything at all.
♥ Violent wind belied the blue sky, tangling her hair and skirts, warning of coming changes.
♥ In Austenland, men and women usually played and teased in conversation. Forthrightness came in rare outbursts that either separated couples or brought them together. They were rare and dangerous events..
♥ It’s a universal truth that nothing spoils a postlunch game of croquet like suspecting the other players of murder.
♥ It turns out that it’s not always safe to think things alone to oneself, even at midnight.
After forming that needling dread into a thought, Charlotte had to get up a few (or twelve) times to peek outside her door and make sure there wasn’t a murderer lurking in the hallway, preparing to come in and kill her in her sleep. No murderer would find her sleeping, by golly! If a murderer wanted her dead, he/she would have to face her like a man/woman and just go ahead and kill her to her face! Because that’s a much nicer way to die. Awake and aware, so you can really experience the whole nauseating horror of it.
Oh, go back to bed, Charlotte.
♥ “Is it too much? Am I too forward to desire an intimacy with your thoughts?” he said.
♥ Caesar wasn’t alone as he waded into the waters of the Rubicon. When Charlotte solved a violent, shocking murder, it would be nice to have a friend beside her.
♥ When they were little, Beckett and Lu loved to play chase. Charlotte would zoom around the kitchen, and they would flee, laughing and squealing and even screaming.
Upon the shout of “Safe, safe!” any noncarpeted place automatically would become safe—a chair, a stool, a bed, a book, a blanket. They’d need a moment to know they were okay, but they’d never stay still for long. Seconds later, they’d take off again, hoping Mom was on their heels.
What fun was safe?
♥ Her heart was pounding in an uncomfortable manner, and her head felt swimmy, but one thought floated to the surface: I am still an idiot. This was the universal truth she had always believed in.
♥ How inconvenient clever women must be to men like Mr. Mallery. If only she’d been frivolous, light-minded, vapid even. Generally speaking, when a man is a murderer and a woman uncovers the unmistakable clue pointing to him, it would be so much easier if that woman were dull-witted. A clever woman can get herself killed.
♥ Charlotte ran again.
The cat-and-mouse might have gone on much longer, but Charlotte stepped on her hem. It occurred to her, the split second before she hit the floor, that men invent fashion. Men who want women in ridiculously long skirts so just in case they murder someone and a woman figures it out, she’ll be so hampered by her ridiculously long skirts that she can be killed too.
♥ “One of my favorite things in the world are those charity events where everyone buys a rubber ducky with a number and the first person’s duck to get down the river wins.”
“I like seeing the river teeming with all those outrageously yellow and orange ducks. It’s so friendly. And I love the hope of it. Even though it doesn’t matter if you win, because all that wonderful, candy-colored money is going to something really important like a free clinic downtown or cleft palate operations for children in India, you still have that playful hope that you will win. You run alongside the stream, not knowing which is your duck but imagining the lead one is yours.”
♥ Charlotte had no plan except to get out of the house. Maybe the house wasn’t a sentient, ancient beast that swallowed corpses whole, but it sure lodged a lot of nutjobs.
♥ Another universal truth is that endings trump beginnings.
♥ She adjusted her pillow and looked over his face. Watching someone sleeping was an intimate act, something reserved for longtime lovers and parents of small children.
♥ “Naturally, for you, Mrs. Cordial,” Mrs. Wattlesbrook said, “I will secure a new partner.”
“Oh.” Charlotte hadn’t thought that part through. Her fingers were still touching Eddie’s.
“And we shall do our utmost,” said Colonel Andrews, arising to bow formally, “to ensure that this one doesn’t try to murder you in cold blood.”
♥ He sure sounds delusional, her Inner Thoughts said.
Charlotte wondered if she would have recognized the crazy much earlier if he looked more like Steve Buscemi than Mr. Medieval Hotness.
♥ Jane Austen had created six heroines, each quite different, and that gave Charlotte courage. There wasn’t just one kind of woman to be. She wasn’t afraid anymore.
♥ She had no expectations. That made her feel a little bit lonely, but a little bit lonely was nicer than a whole lot numb.
♥ This would have killed me when I was fourteen, she thought with sudden insight. I remember that much of my younger self.
The romance and awkwardness and sublime uncertainty would have broken her heart and driven her crazy. What next, what then, what should I say, what if I turned around, what will we do? But age gave her the peace, at least, to live inside that moment like a poet—to not sacrifice the beauty to the anxiety of What Next, but to just observe.
♥ “I’m not leaving you,” James told the children as he emptied the closet of his clothes.
“I’ll always be your father. I’ll never leave you,” he said as he packed up some boxes and left.