Do you ever go onto Amazon to have a look at what people thought of a book you recently read and find that everyone hated it? Yep, odd feeling isn’t it. I’ve had a look through the comments and reviews and they tend to agree with what I thought of the book but I just thought it didn’t make the book less enjoyable? It’s an interesting read and one I will try and review objectively.
Six people – five women and a man – meet once a month in California’s Central Valley to discuss Jane Austen’s novels. They are ordinary people, neither happy nor unhappy, but each of them is wounded in different ways, they are all mixed up about their lives and relationships. Over the six months they meet, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable – under the guiding eye of Jane Austen a couple of them even fall in love…
As the blurb suggests the book follows the six characters as they meet at the book club to discuss the book of the month; Jocelyn, Sylvia, Bernadette, Allegra, Prudie and Grigg. Each of them has personal relationships, stresses, career worries and life doubts which they are hiding behind closed doors. We read along as they struggle to deal with their personal lives whilst also discussing their favourite Austen books. I wonderfully bookish tale.
I thought this book was really special, I’ve always wanted to be a part of a book club and reading their discussions about the books whilst mixing in their personal lives was a really interesting read. Each is introduced and described well and they each have their own personal quirks. Joycelyn is the stereotypical matchmaker who can’t seem to find the right man for her. Bernadette is a little older and wiser preferring to have a little laugh in her life. Griff is a bachelor who has a penchant for science fiction and he grates against the women as the book continues. Sylvia’s marriage has recently hit the rocks and needs a bit of patching up and then there’s Allegra. Feisty and exciting she’s the total opposite of the final member Prudie. A high school French teacher but is a sweet and loving character.
In terms of developemt they are very well built up. With so many characters it could get messy but they are all developed to a point where you really felt for them. I thought the way she contrasted the teenage friendships with Prudie’s relationships help to add contrast between the ages of character. The description is strong and well written helping to take the reader to this new location. I thought the idea that each of the characters discusses their favourite Austen novel helped to show something else about the characters and their personalities. It allowed for an interesting read. Additionally moving between the snatches of the book club and then back to the personal lives helped to highlight the ways the book club was helping and then hindering the characters.
The main wobble of the book which didn’t really worry me but I know was a bit of a sticking point for others is that Fowler states at the beginning of the novel that ‘Each of us has a private Austen,’ and the book is written as like an Austen novel. The book is sold on being as like Austen’s writing; quaint and old fashioned and this just isn’t. It’s a little cynical, at times rude and it’s intelligent but it’s also not quite the pretty little book you might expect when reading something that is supposed to be ‘Austen.’ There are sex scenes and it does get a little risqué but I enjoyed it, but again Austen it ain’t.
Overall I really enjoyed this book and although many have complained about the lack of Austen links and the writing of the book I felt that the writing was strong. I think the links to Austen could have been stronger or it shouldn’t have been marketed in that way but a lovely little read, something easy, sweet and a lovely little tale.