Trying to compare Midnight in Austenland to its original, Austenland, is like attempting to formulate one of those tests you take in high school, the kind that ask you to compare apples and oranges. Midnight in Austenland is to Northanger Abbey as Austenland is to Pride and Prejudice. That is, they are very different books indeed.
Two years ago, after reading the original, I was firmly in the “make Austenland a film” camp. “This film needs to be a movie.” Apparently Stephenie Meyer (of Twilight fame) agreed as she’s now producing the book as a major motion picture starring Keri Russell. Her glowing review of Austenland appears on the back cover of this book and she’s one of the two people to whom this sequel is dedicated. When I heard that Shannon Hale was making a sequel, I rushed out as soon as possible and devoured this 277 p. book in about a day. I think you will too!
Charlotte Kinder was always “nice”, perhaps too nice for her own good. In fact, she was so nice that she missed all of the signs in her marriage that should have pointed to a big problem: the phone calls from hotels her husband wasn’t supposed to be staying at, the lingerie he “forgot” to give her (and in the wrong size), the late nights. When her husband James asked her to sign their financial accounts in both of their names (which she did, all except for her booming business), then divorced her, Charlotte was crushed.
With two teens, Lu and Beckett, and a broken heart, Charlotte turns to a childhood goal, read Jane Austen, to regain some sense of dignity and finds herself longing for the manners and morals of the period, a time when your husband doesn’t schtoop a woman named ‘Justice’ and marry her, then expect the kids to call her ‘mom’. What Charlotte needed was a vacation. Pembrook Park was waiting with a cast of outrageous characters!
There is Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the proprietor, who is a stickler for period-appropriate manners, dinners (including odd foods) and dress, and her drunk husband (formerly Sir John). Also making a return is Colonel Andrews, the outrageous flirt (and is he? isn’t he?), courting again for the umpteenth time, Miss Elizabeth Charming, the big bosomed beauty whose personality fills the room as much as her figure.
New to the group are Miss Lydia Gardenside (in real life, pop star Alisha), and her caretaker, Miss Hatchet. Also, Mr. Mallery, a brooding hero worthy of Bronte’s novels, and Edmund Grey, a yummy combination of Edmund (from Mansfield Park) and Henry Tilney (from Northanger Abbey), who has been scripted to be Charlotte’s pretend brother but is still nice to look at.
Nice Charlotte, who has a propensity to internalize everything (that sounds familiar…) is a grown woman still afraid of the dark. So when she thinks she sees a real corpse during a parlor game in the dark, she turns detective and the novel switches from being a rom-com to a Gothic novel ala Northanger Abbey, and all the guests are suspect!
Can Charlotte overcome her inner critic and allow herself to experience love again, if only for two weeks? Is there or isn’t there a murder? Why is it that brooding heroes are so d*mn attractive and nice guys always unavailable?
1) There is a much-smaller cast of characters this time around and notably, Henry Nobley and Jane Hayes are absent, along with much of the original houseguests.
2) Pembrook Park is all that is left of the multi-theme park ‘Austenland’ as the other locations have been sold, rented, etc. The house feels like it’s lost something of the glamour and allure that existed in the first book. It’s a much-darker story but that goes hand in hand with it having something of a Gothic flair.
3) The style of writing is very different (in my opinion) from the first book. At this point, I need to go into a bit of narrative theory.
When discussing plot, there are a couple of terms you should know:
There is the fabula, the chronological events of a story, and
the discourse, how those events are laid out in the novel (Thanks Eric L.).
Typically, the discourse of a book is not necessarily the same as the fabula. In this book, even though events all take place in modern-day (and period roleplay), the narrative jumps in time between the present, and the past, specifically, Charlotte’s past. As a writing style, I think I understand its purpose — to beg the reader to push through the backstory in order to get back to the present tale. The problem is, as a reader, it’s incredibly distracting and at times I found myself wishing I could just skip those moments, but if you do, you end up missing some great humorous bits.