Thursday, April 9, 2009

Review: Jane Austen Book Club

Karen Joy Fowler. The Jane Austen Book Club. Plume: 2005.

I didn't love The Jane Austen Book Club, but I enjoyed and admired it, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. It's incredibly intelligent and well-crafted pastiche of Jane Austen's books and the contemporary state of life and literature. In this novel, 6 contemporary Californians, mostly middle-aged, meet to read and discuss Jane Austen's 6 novels. Vignettes from the characters' lives parallel and enhance the discussions of the books.

Fowler's novel takes the witty social observation of a Jane Austen novel but juxtaposes it with contemporary attitudes toward marriage and romance and the whole thing feels a lot less substantial than in Austen's novels. The book club's discussions are facile and silly and the romance in the story is halting and unsatisfying, but that's part of the point. This is not a book by Jane Austen. This is not a romance inspired by Austen like Shannon Hale's Austenland, but rather a literary and social commentary in the form of fiction. It's smart, but it feels brittle; it's a little too simple and subtle to be blindingly clever and without the heart of a great romance or even a satisfying chick lit novel. It's good, but too purposely unsatisfying to be great. I like it, but I don't love it. I'm glad I read it, and mostly I admire Fowler's intelligence. I look forward to checking out her other books. I definitely plan to pick up Wit's End when it comes out in paperback later this month.

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