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Karen Joy Fowler – The Jane Austen Book Club

May 5, 2008

63. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler (2004)

Length: 288 pages

Genre: Fiction/Chick-lit

Started: 04 May 2008
Finished: 05 May 2008

Summary: Six people get together to read Jane Austen’s novels and discuss them: Jocelyn, dog breeder, matchmacker, and slight control freak; Sylvia, her best friend that’s just been through a divorce; Allegra, Sylvia’s lesbian daughter; Prudie, high school French teacher; Bernadette, older than the rest and at the point where she no longer cares about social conventions; and Grigg, sci-fi lover, Austen neophyte, and the only man in the group.

Review: I committed the sin of seeing the movie before I saw the book (before I knew there was a book), and what’s worse, I think I’ve committed the cardinal sin of liking the movie better. Part of it is because I never really learned to get along with the writing style, which flipped back and forth between first person plural (lots of “we”s) and third person omniscient (so the speaker of the “we”s was never clearly defined as any one member of the group. It’s sort of similar to the style used in Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, but there it fits, and works, and in this book it just didn’t. It switched so rapidly between the thoughts of one group member to another to the anonymous “we” that it was a little hard to keep track, as well as depersonalizing all of the characters. The other main fault of this book was that there just wasn’t a whole lot of story to the story, and that’s somewhere that I think the movie got it right… it cut out the backstories that Fowler gives us here, but in return gives the characters something to do other than adulate Jane Austen. I think perhaps Fowler was trying to avoid directly paralleling Austen’s novels in hers, which is a fine and admirable goal, but she went a little too far in the opposite direction, leaving it as a novel about some people who get together and talk about books. And while it was easy to read, light, occasionally funny, and occasionally perceptive about real people and relationships, there just wasn’t much meat for the characters or the reader to work with. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Not an unenjoyable read, but it’s pretty light to be worth your time as anything more than a beach book.

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First Line: Each of us has a private Austen.


  • p. 106: “There was something quite mandarin about the complexity of it.” – Marked by elaborate and refined language or literary style.
  • p. 187: “They mostly served boxty, because it was cheap, so the fasting was sort of redundant, and the celibacy was nothing to me, but Mattie minded.” – a thick pancake of grated potato, flour, and baking soda or powder
4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2008 8:30 pm

    Funny, I much preferred the movie also when I read this book a few months ago!

  2. May 6, 2008 8:53 pm

    Oh, good, I’m glad it’s not just me! I always feel guilty admitting something like that.

    What order did you read/watch them? In the rare cases where I like the movie better (actually, I can only think of one example at the moment – The Prestige by Christopher Priest), I almost always see the movie first… I wonder if that prejudices me, or if I just don’t go to movies based on books I didn’t like.

  3. Lacie permalink
    July 16, 2008 5:04 pm

    I’m another who loved the movie then read the book and was quite underwhelmed. I’m actually kind of amazed they wanted to make a movie out of the book, which I thought lacked a “story”. They clearly saw something in the book I didn’t see, for which grateful because I love the movie they culled out of it.

    The movie, and subsequently PBS airing all the Masterpiece movies this winter has converted me into an Austen fan, which I never thought I’d become. I’ve been reading and rereading.

  4. Upiirek permalink
    October 28, 2008 5:14 am

    I am just reading the book (now I’m in the second chapter) and I quite enjoy it. I like all the different views on Austen’s books and I don’t find the book lacking a story etc… well, after reading whole book I will be able to tell more =)

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