The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler fulfills the “Book about a Book Club” category of the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge. In this novel, the characters explore the works of Jane Austen and only Jane Austen.
The people of the Jane Austen book club comprise a diverse group of women and one man. Though I didn’t know it was diverse until almost the end of the story. Until then the group seemed like a bunch of white women with a guy tagging along, but I digress. They read one Austen work a month starting with Emma. Each section of the book focuses on one character and one novel, trying to parallel them with each other.
I’m an Austen fan. I’ve read all the books but the unfinished ones. I’ve seen a version of most of the movies. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice multiple times and it’s my favorite. Perhaps I didn’t understand this book because I wasn’t deeply versed in the Austen universe enough. I failed to see the parallels between the novels and the chapters. Either that or the author failed me.
I was an English major. I studied Pride and Prejudice in at least two academic settings. My friend and I talk up Austen all the time. (Not that one who hasn’t read P&P yet, but she and I agree to disagree.) In conclusion, I think we both failed.
The best example of the author succeeding in her attempt to follow Austen was the chapters about Prudie and Mansfield Park. Sections in this chapter were headed off by quotes from the book that set the scene. The quoted sections worked wonders to bond the reader with the original book and what Ms. Fowler was trying to compare too with her story. None of the other sections kept this format. And it was the third or fourth part of the book.
The worst example (in my opinion, of course) was the one with Pride and Prejudice and Bernadette. P&P is probably the most beloved of Austen’s books. It’s my fav with Sense and Sensibility not far behind. I found nothing with Bernadette clicked with my favorite book, no quotes, no events, nothing. I was kinda annoyed. With all that material, the author chose the character that had the least in common with the greatest book.
As you can guess, I didn’t care for the book. This is my third reading of an “Austen Inspired” novel and the third I didn’t like. I read Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope last year. It failed to hit all the big notes of the original. And I read Bridget Jones Diary, the best one so far. But also, the one I thought failed so badly that I wrote an Austen Inspired book myself, kinda, about a writer coming home to a high school reunion. Maybe someday, I’ll publish it.
I had Reading Lolita in Tehran as another option for this category. I might go read it in the hopes it’s a better story.
I give The Jane Austen Book Club Three Austen books—Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Lady Susan. (Def, not Pride and Prejudice.)