Charlotte Kinder, according to her acquaintances, is nice. Compliant. Not a stand-out. It is quite unexpected that not only does her husband, James, want to divorce her, but he has been having an affair. Her children are at that age where they don’t seem to need her. Who does that to a nice person who always puts herself second to the family?
Almost one year after the divorce, Charlotte finds herself with time for a vacation. The children, Lu and Beckett, are staying with James and Justice (the other woman). Charlotte’s business, a goldmine of a company that prepares landscaping plans, practically runs itself. Charlotte uncovers a to-do list she drafted in middle school that lists “Read Jane Austen” as number seven of things to do before she turns thirty. It is then that Charlotte decides to travel to Austen’s England. Once the travel agent suggests an immersion trip where she gets to “live” as an Austen-era character, she transforms into Charlotte Cordial, young widow.
Once she arrives at Pembroke Park in Regency England, she meets her fellow players. Some are guests like herself and some are actors hired to portray characters. There’s the proprietess, Mrs. Wattlesbrook, a no-nonsense lady; Mr. Thomas Mallery, a Mr. Darcy-like man who exudes danger; Mr. Edmund Grey, Mrs. Cordial’s handsome and good-natured brother; Miss Elizabeth Charming, a perpetual guest at the Park; Miss Lydia Gardenside, a young woman suffering from consumption (and who has a remarkable resemblance to a famous modern-day young actress); and Colonel Andrews, a family friend of Mrs. Wattlesbrook.
Awkward at first, Charlotte begins to find strength in playing someone else. It is when Colonel Andrews tells a local ghost story and proposes that they solve the story’s mystery that she discovers that she has hidden talents and resources that cause Charlotte to think of herself differently. The mystery takes an unwelcome turn when Charlotte discovers a hidden room and the grim secret it holds.
Can Charlotte find a spark of romance in this suspended reality that can propel her out of the post-divorce depression? Knowing that the “romance” at Pembroke Park is fabricated for the guests’ enjoyment, will that be enough? What if the line between real and unreal begins to blur?
The story alternates between recounting the collapse of her marriage and the discovery of who Charlotte becomes. Though she doesn’t realize it, Charlotte’s transformation from doormat to capable woman started when her company became hugely profitable and James became threatened by that development. This enjoyable read has a mystery that helps round out the story of a woman who needs to stop thinking that the shadows are the best place to exist.
3 of 5 Stars
Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale was published January 31, 2012 by Bloomsbury USA