Reading Journal Entry: The Jane Austen Book Club

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.


Maxine said...

Hello, I was a bit shocked when I read your post because I did not remember recommending it, as I did not like it all that much. I went back to check on your posting (that was a great posting! I remember it well and it was fun to re-read it), and I see that I just asked if it was the same author as the author of the book you were discussing (which it was). I was circumspect about whether or not I liked the JA book club.

I think your review is insightful. I agree with your take. I actually thought, in the end, the book was quite pretentious with its list of "suggested questions for your book group reading this book" at the end.

I agree with you that the characters were not distinct. I think the book began well but ran out of steam in the middle. I thought it was somewhat hyped.

Like you, I liked the dissection of Austen's novels better than the plot of the book. Some of the perspectives on the characters in JA's novels (all of which I know extremely well as I re-read them often) I never would have thought of. This was fun, to see these characters in a completely different light in the way I had done.

Thanks for the excellent review, as ever!

Maxine said...

Hello again.
Thanks for your comment on Petrona!
I was just reading my bloglines links and came across something on a related topic over at Jenny D's blog, Light Reading.
Thought you might be interested if you haven't seen it already.
all best