I’ve been listening to a podcast: Book Fight! I love listening to it. I laugh at many of the jokes. I have slight differences in political and religious views which can get awkward. I feel compelled to mention that because I just listening to an episode where I went, “Oh yeah, we don’t agree on that.” But for the most part, it’s been really great and necessary to my happiness to listen to two male English professors laugh about stupid things and talk intelligently about books. It’s like being back in college. More than enjoying their conversations, I feel like I’m learning how to think about books.
And it’s ruining my life.
I recently realized that one of my FAVORITE movies, Austenland, was based off a book. That’s like enjoying Christmas and then getting awarded Second Christmas. Or that moment when you realize you’re going to be celebrating your birthday four or five times over two weeks. The success is nearly palpable. So, of course, I literally shunned my friends that I had not seen in months long enough to purchase this book for one of my reading apps. I was able to pull it together enough to hang out with my friends, waiting to read the book until the next day when I was back home. Then I devoured it in a day.
The book was actually just 200 ebook pages, so it wasn’t even a difficult task. I take no pride in it. I’m also a little disappointed, but only because of this stupid podcast. I kept asking, “Why did that character say that? That makes no sense under the circumstances.” I felt that there was certain parts of the main character that you knew only because the author was very insistent on pointing it out (again and again and again). It’s like there was a war between what the character thought and what she was doing but not in an intentional or meaningful way. Instead, I felt like the author didn’t realize what character she’d written. I almost wonder if she thought, “Why is this so difficult? Why is this character veering off, making me need to pull her back onto this path?”
The book was much more serious than the movie. The movie gave into the absurdity of a woman in her early thirties going on an exclusive Jane Austen, full immersion, vacation. The movie takes the characters and throws glitter on them and puts them on a platform under spotlights and lets flamenco dancers twirl around them. And it’s so completely wonderful. The book attempts to have more respectable characters. Jane, the main character, is less on a fantasy tip and more trying to suss out her exact level of crazy and how to stop that. Even if I hadn’t watched the movie, I think the characters would be boring. They didn’t carry enough substance.
I think that all characters should have something they are going for. It helps them seem real. They have goals and hopes and dreams outside of the main story line. In Austenland the book, they are one sided in a wide way. It’s not like their only purpose is to be a pawn in the plot of the book. They are one sided in the sense that outside of the two main characters, they don’t have any backstory. Not that I need lengthy paragraphs about their childhoods. Still, there wasn’t any hint of driving force behind their actions, or hint at why they are the way they are. Everything’s superficial. They are the way they are simply because the author wanted a character that said and did those certain things, nothing more.
The villain, Mrs. Wattlesbrook, was set up better in the movie. She was an actual presence, so you remembered that she existed and was watchful. In the book, she completely disappears after you meet her. She doesn’t come back until the end. There are some mentions of her throughout the story, but she was distant enough to not really hate her. More than just that, the dialogue between her and Jane was weirdly paced. It was like they were going at different speeds, and their words didn’t match up. Or like, she was a robot that rattled off lines and Jane had to respond too, but then Jane really sucked at getting her words out before Mrs. Wattlesbrook was onto the next line. I had to stop and just stare at the page when they talked like, “What is going on? Maybe if I just stare at the page as a whole, these words will pull their shit together.” I did not like that.
On the positive side, there was a moment in the book where Jane really gets into her art and begins to paint again. She makes some correlations between being a graphic designer (stock photo finder) versus painting and how she would feel in relationships (although none of her relationships seemed like real relationships. I mean, one of her boyfriends was someone who walked the same path in the dog park as her for a couple of months. That’s not a boyfriend. Even I know that.) versus how she wants to feel in relationships. I enjoyed that bit of discovery about herself. I could at least pretend she was a person and was growing and developing, despite the overarching feeling that she spent the whole book asking herself the same question no matter what happened and the in the end she seemed to decide, “It’s the end therefore I’m different because I say so.” Nothing really caused her to be different.
I think the real problem is that in the book, someone buys the trip for her. She thinks it’s hokey and tries to ride two horses with one ass through the whole book. This is silly. This is great. On repeat. Whereas in the movie she sells her car to go and arrives with this wide eye wonder that is thoroughly trashed, causing her to hit a point where she has to fight back and become different. Like, you can only hit a person so many times before they hit back. In the book, no one’s really an adversary. People are living and making choices, but it doesn’t really affect her. She makes it affect her or makes choices based off other peoples choices, but nothing really comes to a head. There’s no victorious moment, which should happen in a book like this. I think it’s a moment the author wanted to have in this book and didn’t quite succeed at.