April 19, 2009
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by Shannon Hale

I discovered that continuations of Jane Austen novels are a modern industry one afternoon, a few years back, browsing in a huge Japanese book emporium in downtown Sydney. It’s an interesting back-country for chicklit/romance I suppose. But this one was read by Katherine Kellgren, who was brilliant in her reading of Bloody Jack, so why not?

Jane Hayes has a job in graphic design, a dingy New York flat, a wealthy great aunt whose health is not good, and a history of about a dozen unsatisfactory boyfriends. Stashed behind her houseplant, Aunt Caroline discovers Jane’s stash of secret tapes – BBC videos of Pride and Prejudice. No one, it seems, measures up to Darcy. Wise Aunt Caroline grasps the problem at once, and bequeaths to Jane a three-week vacation at Pembrook Park, where guests dress in corsets and dine on mutton and metaphor.

I’ve got to admit, I like the premise. Hale gets lots of details right. It would have to be fantastically costly, because you need so many servants, and the hotel needs to supply the clothes. Many of the guests would be wealthy bores and idiots. The best part, I think, is the Reception Desk/intake interview: we can’t have you going direct from Heathrow into the drawing room, can we? So the limo drops you off at a coaching inn where the redoubtable Mrs. Wattlesbrook handles the financial arrangements, introduces you to 19th century clothes and undergarments, reviews essential etiquette, and provides improvised dancing lessons (with The Gardener, naturally) and whist instruction. The coaching inn is a lovely touch.