Rating : 8/10
Reading this book is like treating yourself to a luxurious dinner - it's loads of fun and you will enjoy every minute of it. Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club is a must-read for Austen fans because of its own witty look at society a la Austen and more importantly, it's tribute to Austen and her books in the form of enjoyable discussions.
I watched the movie version about a year ago and loved it and meant to read the book. I was a little nervous that I might not like the book since I pretty much knew how the story would pan out. But this book is more than just another Austen-related book that tries to remodel her novels or makes references to Austenian culture. This is a well-written story chronicling the lives of Prudie, Jocelyn, Allegra, Bernadette, Sylvia and Grigg and their Jane Austen Book Club that impacts their lives more than they realize.
The plot isn't marvellous, but the characters are interesting and it's fun to see such different people united by Austen. I loved the fact that the discussion about the books were full of varied opinions on Austen, her books, her life. I could relate to one point or the other made while analyzing Austen's books, which made this book a pleasure to read. Speaking of relating myself to something a character says in this book, this is so scarily similar to what I do:
‘Everywhere Prudie looked she saw the signs of wealth. She tried for the fun of it to view the scenes as a Jane Austen character would. A young woman with no money and no prospects, here, in the way of all these rich men. Would she feel determined? Would she feel desperate? Would there be any point in looking about, making a secret selection, when you could only sit and wait for someone to come to you?"
This book is a fast-read and Fowler writes with exquisite ease and has quite the talent of making incisive, witty, funny, sarcastic observations on society. Even those who haven't read Austen will enjoy the book, if not for the fact that there are Austen novel spoilers in this book, though that is understandable. Fowler is a very quotable author as well. Sample this:
"All the while it’s Austen writing the really dangerous books” Allegra continued. “Books that people really do believe, even hundreds of years later. How virtue will be recognized and rewarded. How love will prevail. How life is a romance.”
Another aspect of the book that I loved was that there are no forced inclusion of Austen-related things. For instance, the mandatory squeeing over Mr. Darcy is very limited and there's not a single reference to Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen! Instead, there are some very creative Austen-related concepts, like the idea of everyone's 'private Austen'.
My private Austen is a sort of confidante whose books I turn to in all moods. There's something in her books that I enjoy when I'm happy or sad or irate and The Jane Austen Book Club is a book that captures this essence of Austen's impact on our lives. The additional pages in the book explaining Austen's novels and containing a collection of the response of Austen's family members, famous writers and critics are a treasure for the devoted Austen-fan like me. Unwind and have fun reading this one!