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I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.

The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club - Karen Joy Fowler

A sublime comedy of contemporary manners, this is the novel Jane Austen might well have written had she lived in twenty-first-century California.

 

Nothing ever moves in a straight line in Karen Joy Fowler’s fiction, and in The Jane Austen Book Club, the complex dance of modern love has never been so devious or so much fun.

In California’s Central Valley, five women and one man join to discuss Jane Austen’s novels. Over the six months they get together, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable, and love happens. With an eye for the frailties of human behavior and an ear for the absurdities of social intercourse, Karen Joy Fowler has never been wittier nor her characters more appealing. The result is a delicious dissection of modern relationships.

 

Dedicated Austenites will delight in unearthing the echoes of Austen that run through the novel, but most readers will simply enjoy the vision and voice that, despite two centuries of separation, unite two great writers of brilliant social comedy. (source)

This was my tumblr book club's read last week. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous going in - I love the Jane Austen novels that I've read and I love book clubs, but I do think that it's extremely difficult to find books about book clubs that are well-written. Not only must authors develop plots of their own as they would in any other book, but they need to be able to craft in-depth literary discussions of books that are well-known for whatever reason - and with a book club revolving around an author as beloved as Jane Austen, I think that this could be especially challenging. My worries were heightened by memories of a college professor who once ranted about the film version of TJABC - he described it as a movie about "middle aged women who live in a fantasy world and are constantly disappointed by their mediocre love lives - boooor-ing!" I would ordinarily write this off because he's a man and most men aren't huge fans of chick flicks, but he said he was even more disappointed because he is apparently a huge fan of Jane Austen. 

 

So, yeah, I was pretty nervous about this one. 

 

In some ways, my worries were warranted. There were several characters in the book club who I felt were annoying, boring, or simply underdeveloped. Sylvia was one of the flattest characters who I've ever encountered - she's meant to be one of the main characters of the book, but she's limited to being defined only as Allegra's mother and Daniel's jilted wife. Prudie has an extremely quirky personality and I was torn between loving her for her uniqueness and being annoyed by some of her traits. I simply could not get interested in Grigg's story. And as for Allegra, while I admired her spitfire personality, often she was opinionated just for the sake of argument. She was extremely pretentious and that turned me off. However, I loved Jocelyn and Bernadette. I thought they were hysterical! Between the two of them, I honestly don't know who I loved more. 

 

After finishing the book, I definitely enjoyed the book club club discussion portions more than the sections of the book that took place in "real life." The discussions were fantastic. I do feel that I would have enjoyed them much more if I had read Emma and Persuasion prior to reading this book, but that's to be expected. For the discussions about the Austen books that I have read, my interest was sustained and I absolutely loved reading about the various interpretations of and reactions to each book. The counterpart to this is that at least 50% of the time, I was bored by the "real life" parts of the books. Fowler simply couldn't interest me in each character's personal storylines. While I loved their discussions, the fact that I wasn't interested in characters as a person  is a definite flaw in the book. 

 

I enjoyed this book and I plan to re-read this after finishing all of Austen's works. Unfortunately, I do think that Fowler failed to really bring her own characters to life, but they did have wonderful discussions. While I read this, I felt as though I were a member of the Jane Austen Book Club - and that was a wonderful experience.