I've had the Jane Austen Book Club out from the library since Maxine recommended it to me two months ago. Now it can go back. My groaning shelves will thank me.
It's about a book group, several women and one man who read and discuss successively all the novels of Jane Austen. Fowler's feminist credentials definitely show in the choice of subject matter - one of the earliest respected female authors, a variety of married and unmarried women of differing ages, and a lesbian (yay lesbians!). Over the course of monthly discussions, we learn about each woman's history, and romance blossoms. Or not. Very appropriate to a discussion of Austen.
I loved the voice Fowler uses, a cool dispassionate storytelling that switches from first person plural (we) to singular to third and back again in flashbacks, meditations, adventures. I love the themes, and the cute little 'discussion questions' at the end of the book, each set posed by a different member of the club. I loved the dissections of the Austen novels, each one echoing questions I've had myself or raising new ones.
But the characterization was a little blurry. It got hard to tell the club members apart. And I didn't really see the point of a couple of them. Prudie's history of parental deception gave me a 'moment', but what else was she there for really? To have a book club member who was happily married, it seems, even if it's a bland passionless kind of union.
Lack of passion is the book's besetting sin. That's not really a surprise, since it's a criticism made of Jane Austen's work as well. These women (and men) don't want anything enough to grasp it fully, and the book suffers for it. There's no yelling, nor exuberance. There's a dry wit instead, and Fowler doesn't quite manage to give me the sense of emotions roiling beneath the surface that Austen excels at.
It's both fun and funny, but not fully satisfying.