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The Jane Austen Book Club Hardcover – April 26, 2004

2.8 out of 5 stars 352 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fowler's fifth novel (after PEN/Faulkner award finalist Sister Noon) features her trademark sly wit, quirky characters and digressive storytelling, but with a difference: this one is book clubâ€"ready, complete with mock-serious "questions for discussion" posed by the characters themselves. The plot here is deceptively slim: five women and one enigmatic man meet on a monthly basis to discuss the novels of Jane Austen, one at a time. As they debate Marianne's marriage to Brandon and whether or not Charlotte Lucas is gay, they reveal nothing so much as their own "private Austen(s)": to Jocelyn, an unmarried "control freak," the author is the consummate matchmaker; to solitary Prudie, she's the supreme ironist; to the lesbian Allegra, she's the disingenuous defender of the social caste system, etc. The book club's conversation is variously astute, petty, obvious and funny, but no one stays with it: the characters nibble high-calorie desserts, sip margaritas and drift off into personal reveries. Like Austen, Fowler is a subversive wit and a wise observer of human interaction of all stripes ("All parents wanted an impossible life for their childrenâ€"happy beginning, happy middle, happy ending. No plot of any kind"). She's also an enthusiastic consumer of popular culture, offsetting the heady literary chat with references to Sex and the City, Linux and "a rug that many of us recognized from the Sundance catalog." Though the 21 pages of quotations from Austen's family, friends and critics seems excessive, the novelty of Fowler's package should attract significant numbers of book club members, not to mention the legions of Janeites craving good company and happy endings.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Fowler, a captivating and good-hearted satirist, exuberantly pays homage to and matches wits with Jane Austen in her most pleasurable novel to date by portraying six irresistible Californians who meet once a month to discuss Austen's six novels. Coyly shifting points of view, Fowler subtly uses her characters' responses to Austen as entree into their poignant and often hilarious life stories. The book club is Jocelyn's idea, a fiftysomething gal who seems to prefer the company of her show dogs to men. She has known Sylvia since grade school, and even used to date Sylvia's husband, who has abruptly moved out, inspiring their beautiful, accident-prone, lesbian artist daughter, Allegra, to move back in and join the book club along with her mother. Also on board are disheveled and loquacious Bernadette; Prudie, a high-school French teacher; and Grigg, the only man. Fowler shares Austen's fascination with the power of stories, and explores the same timeless aspects of human behavior that Austen so masterfully dramatizes, while capturing with anthropological acuity and electrifying humor the oddities of our harried world. Fellow Austenites will love Fowler's fluency in the great novelist's work; every reader will relish Fowler's own ebullient comedy of manners, and who knows how many book clubs will be inspired by this charming paean to books and readers. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: A Marian Wood Book/Putnam (April 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399151613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399151613
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (352 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #967,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
According to Jocelyn, it is "essential to reintroduce Austen into your life regularly...let her look around." This is exactly her aim when she launches the "all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club" and invites five of her friends and acquaintances to meet and discuss one of Austen's novels every month.
Each of the members "has a private Austen," Karen Joy Fowler tells us in the opening line of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB. For Jocelyn, a compulsive matchmaker and organizer extraordinaire of other people's lives, Austen "wrote wonderful novels about love and courtship, but never married." Bernadette, the oldest member of the group, has lived a colorful sixty-seven years, including a brief foray into show business and several trips to the altar. Her private Austen is "a comic genius."
Sylvia, Jocelyn's childhood friend, has recently separated from her husband of thirty-two years. Not being a happy ending person, Sylvia's Austen is more practical --- "a daughter, a sister, an aunt." For Sylvia's daughter Allegra --- a strikingly beautiful, self-described "garden-variety lesbian" --- Austen writes about "the impact of financial need on the intimate lives of women."
Prudie, a high school French teacher afraid to visit France because it might not live up to her expectations, is the youngest member of the group at twenty-eight. Her Austen is the one "whose books changed every time you read them, so that one year they were all romances and the next, you suddenly noticed Austen's cool, ironic prose."
As for Grigg, no one knows who his private Austen is.
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Format: Hardcover
I see here that not everyone agrees with me, but I loved The Jane Austen Book Club. I thought it was cleverly written with wonderful characters and very, very witty. The premise is this: a loosely-connected group of acquaintences forms a book club to discuss Jane Austen's works. Each chapter of the novel focuses both on the Austen book at hand, and the life of the book club member hosting the meeting that month. With six members of the club--well, you are not going to be able to get into the nitty gritty of each member's life without a long, drawn-out magnum opus. Fowler instead chooses to focus on a few events in the various character's lives. They all know each other, so the various members pop up in the other chapters as well. The novel is narrated by all of the book club members, speaking as one voice, which Fowler uses to her advantage on many humorous occasions. Each character is wonderful, yet flawed. The novel is a comedy of manners in the modern sense. You will recognize parts of yourself and others you know in many of the characters. There is no true "plot" to this story, although the love lives of many of the members, while unresolved at the beginning of the novel, resolve themselves towards the end. The lack of plot doesn't matter, however, in this truly cleverly written, enjoyable, engaging novel. I think this one is a must for anyone who loves to read--you don't have to be an Austen fan to enjoy it. I for one think this novel deserves the hype, and believe me, I was pretty sceptical at first. Enjoy this one: it is a treasure.
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Format: Paperback
I had not heard of The Jane Austen Book Club until the movie came out. As one of my rules (mostly followed) is not to see a movie until I've read the book it's based on, I picked up a copy and added it to my "to be read eventually" pile. Well, I've finally gotten to it. I really don't see what all the fuss was for.

I'm not a raving Jane Austen fan, but I certainly do enjoy her work and have read most of her novels (Northanger Abbey and Lady Susan are still waiting for me). I understand the desire to have a Jane Austen book club. I understand each of the characters and their reasons for being in the club. I understand the concept of taking Austenesque characters and placing them into modern society.

What I don't understand is why so many people went nuts over this. Fowler doesn't write like Austen, and Austen's use of language is one of most enjoyable bits about her books. The other wonderful things about Austen's books is how women work within and around the social constraints of their society. In modern society, the majority of those limits simply aren't there, so Fowler has to invent other situations to produce emotional conflict.

She doesn't succeed very well.

The characters have issues, none of them really seem to feel them. There's not even any real suffering in silence, which is so enjoyable in Mansfield Park. There's little romance and little character growth. In fact, the only thing about this book that is common with Austen's work is that everyone winds up in a relationship in the end. Sorry to spoil it for you, but really, what did you expect to happen?

In fact, this book reads as though it was hoped to become the next Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, going all the way as to include discussion questions at the end.
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