‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ by Karen Joy Fowler

May 12, 2014 at 12:00 am 3 comments

Part of my quest to read as many unread books on my shelves as possible before moving.
I picked up Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club during one of those used book store fire sales towards the end of the calendar year. In my case, the book store in question was practically giving away the books, offering a large tote bag for $15 and telling customers to fill it with as much as they could. So Fowler came home with me with the vague intentions of reading it quickly and then sending it on to Kate, our resident popular literature scholar.

Instead, it sat. First on the windowsill in my living room and then under the desk in my bedroom, The Jane Austen Book Club languished. It wasn’t the sort of book I usually read, so I didn’t know what to expect and thus had a hard time motivating myself to read it. But I couldn’t bear to send it on without having given it a try.

Cut to the beginning of May, a move impending and a birthday package to Kate in the making. The time was clearly nigh. So I took an evening, hunkered down with my dog, and read the whole thing in essentially one go. It’s a short, placid read and one easily suited to such a spring evening.

In fact, the book was so inoffensive that I find myself with relatively little to say about it. The characters are a strange group, none of them wholly likable or unlikable, but most rather enigmatic. Fowler seems to try and flesh out each character’s story by tying each of them to one of Jane Austen’s books, but it never quite works. There are echoes, certainly, but you still come away not really “getting” any of the characters, who all mostly boil down to an adjective or personality quirk: one likes dogs, one is snobby, one dresses funny, one is a brassy lesbian, one is hurting, one is a man, etc.

And the plot itself inches forward, month by month, as the club meets to discuss each of the books. The discussion is peripheral to the novel, though, so there are just snippets placed in between longer flash-back sections that are supposed to explain that particular character.

It was a somewhat disappointing experience as I was at least expecting some verve in the writing if nothing else. Instead, it’s written in a weird first person plural (“our book club” and “we didn’t know X”), but everyone is referred to in the third person. I suppose that’s supposed to make you feel part of the action, but it really ends up dialing everyone day and making nothing seem terribly dramatic, even when death or the emergency room are involved.

On the whole, it was a quick, perfectly fine book, but not one I would rave about. I seem to recall seeing the movie version some years back and thinking it worked, so perhaps watch that instead?


Entry filed under: Romance and Chick Lit. Tags: , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kate  |  May 17, 2014 at 11:43 am

    I felt the same way! I vaguely kind of avoided rereading it, but I couldn’t remember exactly why I wasn’t a fan in the first place…and I feel like I might have read it about five or six years ago, now, so I might have a totally different opinion on it these days. At least it’s a quick read :)

    • 2. Corey  |  May 21, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      Yay commiseration! I just couldn’t understand why they were all being so snobby about everything *and* pointlessly mean to poor Grigg. I think I might re-watch the movie, given the opportunity, but thank goodness the book is quick. Oy!

      • 3. Kate  |  May 27, 2014 at 6:04 pm

        Also, WHY DID ALLEGRA MOVE BACK IN WITH CORRINE. Dumb. Why even introduce the lesbian lady doctor?


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