Confession time: I have actually read chick-lit. Why do I need to confess that? Because I was an English major and then an MFA person, and then an English teacher, and so it just seems like the sort of thing that would be an admission. A guilty admission.
I don’t read it often, however, and it’s not because I’m snotty. I’m not. Or am I? Would I even wonder that if I were? Well, now I don’t know. I love specific authors of genre fiction, and chick-lit is just another genre– I just happen to not be too fond of it, apparently. I like my sci-fi à la China Mieville (dense!), my fantasy à la Neil Gaiman (comforting!), and my romances à la Tessa Dare (fluffy!). Mysteries are a whole new topic, with subdivisions and stuff, so we’ll just set mysteries to the side for a while. That’s another post.
When Waitress came out a few years ago, I liked it a lot. Nathan Fillion was in it, and I was on a big Firefly kick at the time. When am I not on a Firefly kick, though? Also, I was really into Pushing Daisies, and the main character in Waitress also had a pie angle. I might just be one of the only Keri Russell fans who didn’t actually like Felicity. Is that sacrilegious? How about when I say I only liked Gilmore Girls because of Paris? Do you hate me now?
At any rate, when I heard about a Keri Russell movie involving something to do with Jane Austen, and then peeked on IMDB and saw that the male lead was JJ Field (from Ruby in the Smoke) I was all about it. I was picturing Waitress, kind of, but without pies and with Austen instead. Nice, right?
Well, I haven’t seen the movie yet, because it’s not on Instant Play and I already have two DVDs that I’m not ready to return. So I read the book.
Normally, when it comes to all things Austen, I’m a stick in the mud purist. I don’t want to know what happened to Darcy and Elizabeth after they got married. I don’t want to read alternate versions or bodice ripper fantasies with the Pride and Prejudice characters. Just the original books, please, and some of the movies. Not even all of the movies.
But this isn’t a rehashing of Austen, so it slipped through on a technicality. The main character, Jane, gets sent to a Regency era summer camp, where everybody pretends they’re Austen-ish characters. That sounded like some fluffy fun.
But then this happened:
Instantly, I went into metawriter mode. It’s like my superpower. I wondered if this was the author’s opinion about Northanger Abbey, or just the character’s opinion. Because it’s different, you know? I could respect the author if it was just the character’s opinion, but not if it was the author’s opinion trickling into the character. And I just couldn’t tell. I couldn’t tell and it drove me nuts.
It made me dislike the character from, like page two.
Do I need to explain how much I love Northanger Abbey? It’s possible that I’ve read it more times than Pride and Prejudice, and that’s saying something. I’ve read it so many times that when it was time to take the AP English test in high school, I recognized the passage used– the first few pages– and hardly even had to read it.
I think the reason it resonated with me was because it was such an adept parody of the literature at the time. The heroine is not an orphan or mistreated in any way. She sees romance everywhere and is pitifully wrong. She actually causes drama just by misinterpreting things by trying to see her life as one big Castle of Otranto remake, which it most certainly is not. And this all rang my little high school aged bells, because it was such a teenager-ish thing to do. I did it all the time and could see myself in her, and desperately wanted a Henry Tilney to recognize something in me in the same way that he recognized something in Catherine. It gave me hope, which is the sort of thing Austen novels do.
So why the hate for Northanger Abbey? I just couldn’t get over it. Eventually, I read the whole thing, but it all fell flat for me because I could not feel all the feelings I should have felt for the main character.
For the record, I often love to hate a main character. Gone Girl is a really good example of that. They were both such assholes! But they were supposed to be, whether you could see yourself in the characters or not, little facets of them and hopefully not large chunks, it was okay to dislike them and root for them at the same time.
But Austenland should have had more delineation, because it is a fluffier rom-com kind of thing, and the genre demands less ambivalence and more clearly defined roles. I suppose that’s arguable. But I really wanted to like her, and I needed to like her for this foray into chick-lit to work, and I didn’t. And that, my friends, is all.