In a sequel to her bestselling Austenland (2007, etc.), Hale sends another 21st-century American to play Regency heroine at Pembrook Park.
Charlotte Kinder could certainly use a vacation at the English estate that promises its female visitors the complete Jane Austen experience, right down to the corsets and attentive gentlemen (actors) to provide a chaste 19th-century romance during their two-week stay. Husband James has taken up with another woman, leaving Charlotte’s self-confidence and self-esteem shattered despite the millions she’s made as the creator of a web-based landscaping business. Post-divorce, while the kids spend time with their father and his fiancée, Charlotte heads for Kent, where she finds a house full of male “eye candy” and other guests recovering from modern traumas. “Miss Charming” (the ladies all take Austenish sobriquets) has also been dumped by a cheating spouse; “Miss Gardenside” is a recognizable 20-year-old pop star whose case of “consumption” masks the symptoms of drug withdrawal. Charlotte (“Mrs. Cordial”) finds her designated Romantic Interest, Mr. Mallery, pleasingly smoldering, and she grows very fond of Eddie, who is playing her brother while paying suit to Miss Gardenside. The agreeable pretend mystery set up for the guests turns disagreeably real when Charlotte stumbles on a body while playing Bloody Murder. The body vanishes, but resourceful Charlotte eventually finds it again and identifies the miscreant, even as flashbacks fill in the details of her failed marriage and her lifelong failure to stand up for herself. Of course, she finally tells off rotten James and finds true love with a handsome actor happy to be her real-life Romantic Interest. A smartly plotted mystery somewhat compensates for the fact that Charlotte’s psychological problems are entirely predictable, the rest of the characters sketchily portrayed and the arch narration a huge comedown from the real Jane’s sharp, sardonic tone.
Will no doubt appeal to those fans who think that period clothes and happy romantic endings constitute an authentic re-creation of Austen’s hard-edged novels.