Friday, October 3, 2008

The Jane Austen Book Club, book review

Posted by lea at 11:37 AM
My third read in around a year and a half, and it improves each time. The first time I was a bit offended because it seemed that the plot had very little to do with Austen, but the second time it grew on me, and the third time I really enjoyed the subtleties I didn't pick up the first time (because I was so busy being offended).

The Jane Austen Book Club is about a group of people - mostly female, mostly older - who gather each month to read and discuss a different Jane Austen novel. Karen Joy Fowler, the author, obviously knows and loves her Austen, skillfully weaving the themes and ideas of the novels into each chapter. So subtly, in fact, that I failed to pick up some of it in my first read.

She uses an interesting method of first-person narrative in writing as a member the book club ('us', 'we'), yet the narrator is clearly none of the members themselves. It's as though the narrator is the collective consciousness of the club, and this makes you feel part of the group without intruding on them.

The characters are all very different, but drawn together by their love of Austen... mostly. There's the efficient and brisk Jocelyn who started the club, the I'm-letting-myself-deliberately-go older member Bernadette, Prudie the French teacher who likes to drop un petit peu of Français into each conversation, Jocelyn's best friend and recently-separated Sylvia, her beautiful self-centred lesbian daughter Allegra, and Grigg, the only male member -

She [Jocelyn] introduced us all to Grigg. He had brought the Gramercy edition of the complete novels, which suggested that Austen was merely a recent whim. We really could not approve of someone who showed up with an obviously new book, of someone who had the complete novels on his lap when only Emma was under discussion. Whenever he first spoke, whatever he said, one of us would have to put him in his place.

There's nothing big or loud about The Jane Austen Book Club. Instead, it's very enjoyable for its quiet wit and unobtrusive narrative. Yet, in true Jane Austen style, the characters find love, forgiveness and all the good things that make us human. Big thumbs up from me.

Oh, and the movie's pretty good too.


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