The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler is about a loosely connected group of people who form a club to discuss Austen’s work. Each chapter highlights one of her novels and the life of one of the book club members. 5 of the members are women and rabid Austen fans. The sixth member, a man, is new to her work and reads science fiction (gasp!). Poor guy is judged on everything, including his offerings to pot luck dinners.
As a book club member myself, I was interested to read this, but the sections when the characters are at their book club meetings weren’t that interesting. The conversation was haphazard and stilted. Sometimes they’d take phone calls, leave the room for long stretches of time, etc. during their meetings. We don’t do that at my book club. They would make judgments on members based on opinions or comments they made about Jane Austen. I haven’t read any Jane Austen, so I’m sure I would have been seen as unforgivably ignorant. Even though they were Austen snobs, the commentary on the novels seemed superficial and shallow.
The book is more character driven than plot driven, although I don’t think Fowler went deep enough into the characters for the reader to really care about them. They are sketched out enough to create interest, but I wanted to be pulled in further and the book just doesn’t do that.
It’s not necessary to be an Austen fan to read this book. No prior knowledge is required (although maybe it would help). A brief synopsis of her work is given at the back of the book for easy reference. I can’t be entirely sure, but I think there was an effort to mirror some present day situations going on with her characters to the characters in Austen’s novels. I was only vaguely aware of that, if in fact that was actually intended.
I had a problem with the narration. It kept changing without any rhyme or reason, mid chapter. I would think I knew who was “talking”, let’s say Jocelyn. Then it would say, “And Jocelyn did blah, blah, blah” and I would think, WHAT? I thought this was Jocelyn talking! I would have to go back to figure out who was narrating, and sometimes it was impossible to know. This was highly annoying and happened 3 or 4 times (I marked the pages so that I can complain at my own book club meeting!)
There was one part of the book that I connected with, and it was near the end, when Sylvia, a woman in her 50’s, misses her boys.. not her grown up sons but her boys when they were small. While looking at their dad, who she is separated from, she has flashback memories of camping trips and pulling her kids onto her lap to read and taking the training wheels off their bikes. Her reflections on their childhoods caught me by surprise as perhaps the most realistic moment in the book. As a mom of kids that are growing way too fast, I could relate to that. I miss my babies.
Everything is happily wrapped up in the end. We find out in the final few pages what happens to all the club members. The Jane Austen Book Club is ok, pleasant enough, not offensive, but not one I would recommend for book clubs. It’s too “light” for a book club read. If you’re an Austen fan and feel you must read it, I recommend you save your money and get it from the library.
The Jane Austen Book Club movie comes out on DVD February 5th. I noticed on my copy of the book that the actors all look about 10 years younger than they’re supposed to be. Hollywood!