The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

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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.

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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.

Linnnnnnks

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A Jane Austen Daydream: Scott D. Southard

Good evening readers, this blog post comes from a very calm and collected little blogger. These last couple of weeks have been really busy and a combination of late nights, looming deadlines and general stress has lead to a very (very) tired Lizzy. A weekend just reading, writing and sorting through emails whilst watching girly films has sorted this little blogger right out and I’m now on course for a much calmer month ahead. This review comes from an author who emailed me back in May so sorry it’s taken so long, but it’s finally here; hope you enjoy.

All her heroines find love in the end–but is there love waiting for Jane? Jane Austen spends her days writing and matchmaking in the small countryside village of Steventon, until a ball at Godmersham Park propels her into a new world where she yearns for a romance of her own. But whether her heart will settle on a young lawyer, a clever Reverend, a wealthy childhood friend, or a mysterious stranger is anyone’s guess. Written in the style of Jane herself, this novel ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years–did she ever find love? Weaving fact with fiction, it re-imagines her life, using her own stories to fill in the gaps left by history and showing that all of us–to a greater or lesser degree–are head over heels for Jane.

Have you ever wondered what the life of an author was like, say Jane Austen? Well look no further, in this delightful book Scott, D, Southard has done just that! If you are an Austen fan definitely look into this book as it will really surprise you. I really loved the way that the book is written in the same style as the author herself and the way that her life is populated by the same types of character that we could (and do) find in her very own books. I really enjoyed the concept of the book as it takes a biography style but a fictional form which was incredibly clever (can someone do one for Roald Dahl?) Although an interesting concept the book is a light-hearted affair and you can read it with very little or no knowledge as to Austen herself and still enjoy it. I am a terrible reader of the classics as I very rarely find myself making time to discover them however I still found this a lovely little read. I did also like that the book is only loosely based on Jane Austen’s life and follows her from around the age of twenty to thirty five however it does incorporate events that did occur to Jane including the death of a future brother in law and a move to bath. Jane also throughout entertains a number of interesting potential suitors and the mix again between real and daydream creates an interesting mix to interest the reader.

Although the concept is brilliant I did find a few minor faults with the actual construction of the novel. Firstly, I thought Jane was wonderfully whimsical and delightfully youthful but at times she was a little overplayed in terms of being a little impressionable and vulnerable. Yes, she stands up for herself and is determined but I would have liked her a little more steadfast. Also, the book is incredibly long. At over 400 pages it could have been edited down a lot and that would have helped to move the narrative on at a much quicker pace. Additionally for me some of the passages really dragged and I found myself losing interest but with a snappier, sharper edit it could have drawn me into the story with more power. There is of course no evidence that Austen pulled plot lines from her own life and that her characters did in fact come from people that she met in real life however in this respect the book is a little fun for the imagination. I guess it must be said in this respect if you are looking for something that is fact over fiction I would suggest this isn’t for you. (Unless you like a little challenge and fancy looking for the lesser known characters and quotes that I most definitely missed!)

Too sum up, I really liked this book especially the thought behind it, and I really found myself getting involved. With a more decisive and harsher edit the book would have had a snappier feel and the pace would have moved with more style and derision and would keep the reader more entertained. I think for a real lover of Austen this would have been more powerful as a book but it’s a lovely idea and I really did enjoy reading it.

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