Review: The Jane Austen Book Club

NaBloPoMo, Day 18

Karen Joy Fowler (2004)

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like “gimmick” books. Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, disappointed me and I wasn’t a big fan of The Eyre Affair, which has since spawned a popular series of “Thursday Next” mysteries by Jasper Fforde. I tend to steer clear of books that make a fictional character of a famous author or write in their voice. I cringe at the thought of Jane Austen as Nancy Drew and not because I’m an Austenite (is that what their called?) but because I think it’s silly. Why would I want to read someone imitating someone else’s style? I’d rather just read the original, or something more original, period.

I write all this as a manner of disclosure. The Jane Austen Book Club is a book I never would have picked up on my own; a copy was passed on to me along with the positive recommendations from three people whose opinions I value. I came at it with an open mind and was initially impressed by the writing but I quickly grew tired of the characters.

The premise is this: A group of six friends and acquaintances come together to form “the Central Valley/River City all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club.” From March to November, they meet to discuss all six of Jane Austen’s novels during which time their own lives and loves parallel Austen’s work. I guess. I didn’t much are for any of these people and certainly wouldn’t want to attend a book club with them. (I don’t think there’s a sense of humor between the lot of them.) And while I enjoy Jane Austen’s books, I’m by no means a hard-core enough fan to bother connecting the dots to see the parallels between the fictional past and present. I just didn’t care enough.

I had trouble keeping the characters straight; they just weren’t distinct enough to gel in my mind. About halfway through the book, I consulted IMDB for the recent film adaptation so I could use the cast to help distinguish the characters. This initially confused me more, since some of the women are supposed to be in their fifties but have been cast by the Maria Bello and Amy Brenneman, actresses at least a decade younger than that. Figures.

My favorite section of the book came at the very end—a clever list of somewhat self-reflexive discussion questions posed by each of the characters.

Overall, while I liked Fowler’s voice and writing style, I wouldn’t recommend the book unless you’re a Jane Austen fan interested in eavesdropping on a discussion of her novels or playing the game of Austen’s themes then-and-now.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Jane Austen Book Club

  1. Um…er… I hated this book! And I am a Janeite as well. I passed it on to a fellow Janeite who also hated it. I didn’t waste my money on the film.

  2. I also disliked this book very much and I gather the film of it which has just been released is pretty dire. Whenever I visit charity shops and check out their bookshelves, which i do regularly, this one is always there!

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