Review: The Jane Austen Book Club

Today’s book is another selection from my book club, but The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler has been on my to-read list for ages. Having focused almost entirely on Romantic- and Victorian-era British literature in my undergraduate studies, Jane Austen was de rigeur, so I’m reasonably well-versed in the works of Jane Austen (though I haven’t read them all). Furthermore, reading about a book club for book club? How meta.

The premise of The Jane Austen Book Club is enticing. Via Goodreads:

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 her eye for the frailties of human behavior and her 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.

All said and done, I give Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club just two out of five stars.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t blown away by this particular book. I liked the high-level prologue, which introduces the idea of a “private Austen” and connects each character to a different novel, but I thought this thread was lost throughout. Fowler didn’t draw connections between the characters in the novel and their private Austens despite initiating those connections before the narrative truly begins.

Moreover, the synopsis of this book speaks to strong similarities between Austen’s writing and Fowler’s. While Fowler pokes at social absurdity in a comical way, that is where the similarity ends; Fowler’s voice is entirely different, even directly provocative, while Austen’s is evocative of the Victorian era, winding its way around a point without directly stating anything. Thus, Fowler’s writing is enjoyable, but not tremendously Austen-esque.

My last (and primary) issue with the novel is that while the story is easy to read, it’s boring. There is no real action, the dialogue within the book club is pretentious, and there is no real movement in relationships. Flashbacks are utilized heavily, but there is no true relation between them and the present. All in all, this book is a glorious letdown.

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