Click here to read reviewer LuAnn Womach's take on The Jane Austen Book Club.
Sometimes a glowing sentence on the cover of a book can actually hit the brakes rather than the intended accelerator. Being an incorrigible Austen fan and mesmerized by Alice Sebold’s double thumbs-up on the book cover, I was more than ready to gobble Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club. After all, nothing like a hearty dose of Austen to reinforce one’s faith in goodness of providence. That didn’t happen right off the bat — but fortunately the process of reviewing is synonymous with persisting.
Fowler’s story seems cute and elegant enough: five women and one man meet each month to discuss Jane Austen’s novels ("six novels in six months"), and the parallel track of their lives runs in the background. Keeping with Austen’s spirit, the decks of their lives are gradually cleared of excess emotional baggage and, if Austen is the resident deity, then can love and marriage be far behind?
The plot appears to meander initially; the characters seem to be going through the motions of life in a perfunctory manner, but gradually it starts to make sense as Fowler delves deep into all her characters lives and pieces their personalities together delicately, through childhood anecdotes, adolescent heartbreaks and adulthood choices. Consequently, participants of this six-person book club soon transcend the labels the author uses initially to help the reader identify them. My personal favorites are Sylvia and Jocelyn – both women in their early fifties, nourishing four decades of a friendship impervious to boyfriend snatching, well-meaning bossing and other ravages of life.
Somewhere around the last quarter, the book starts dripping of Karen Joy Fowler’s love for and gratitude towards Austen for all her insights, masterfully illustrating why so many people all over the world adore Austen. Then Sebold’s praise appears justified - still, one wishes that Fowler wouldn’t have made us wait that far into the book.