The Jane Austen Book Club

by Karen Joy Fowler

Hardcover, 2004

Call number




A Marian Wood Book/Putnam (2004), 304 pages


Fiction. Romance. Humor (Fiction.) HTML: A sublime comedy of contemporary manners, this is the novel Jane Austen might well have written had she lived in twenty-first century California. Nothing ever moves in a straight line in Karen Joy Fowler's fiction, and in her latest, the complex dance of modern love has never been so devious or so much fun. Six Californians join to discuss Jane Austen's novels. Over the six months they meet, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable, and love happens. With her finely sighted eye for the frailties of human behavior and her finely tuned ear for the absurdities of social intercourse, Fowler has never been wittier nor her characters more appealing. The result is a delicious dissection of modern relationships. Dedicated Austenites will delight in unearthing the echoes of Austen that run through the novel, but most readers will simply enjoy the vision and voice that, despite two centuries of separation, unite two great writers of brilliant....… (more)

Media reviews

The real problem, though, is that the book club remains a convenience for gathering the novel's capsule stories. Fowler does not contrive any pleasing symmetries between her stories and Austen's, and the characters' discussions of Austen's novels are thin and uninteresting. They manage little more
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than "I think Catherine Moreland's a charming character", versus "She's very, very silly. Implausibly gullible." Fowler may have faith in Austen, but she does not trust her characters to make you interested in their particular readings. And she is certainly not prepared to make these characters as foolish or parti pris as some of the readers whose judgments Austen so mercilessly recorded.
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If, as a writer, you are going to take on Jane Austen - a novelist whose art, as Thornton Wilder put it, is so consummate that its secret is hidden, impossible wholly to illuminate - you had better make damn sure you are up to the job.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ncgraham
When I picked up The Jane Austen Book Club, I expected it to be pure, kitschy, romantic fluff.

It wasn’t. But I think I might have preferred it if it was.

For one thing, romantic fluff generally doesn’t include attempted rape in the first chapter. This is a profoundly disturbing scene, and I’m
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thankful that I was speed-reading the book for school, because that seemed to lessen the impact of it somewhat. I know others who have put the book down after that section out of pure disgust. Were I in a different situation, I’m sure I would have done the same.

Unresolved sexual issues left over from childhood and adolescence seems to be the one thing the otherwise diverse members of the book club have in common. Okay, I guess I can kind of see how that might happen, but the whole think just smacks of pop psychology as far as I’m concerned. I suppose in this post-Freudian age almost everybody has unresolved childhood issues, and pretty much everything should be interpreted as sexual. *sigh*

I must admit that I really liked and connected to Grigg, the only male member of the book club, and not only because I myself was in a similar situation. (I read this book as part of a seminar entitled “Jane Austen and the Popular Imagination,” and was one of only two men in the class.) I think a lot of studious and/or nerdy guys could sympathize with his character; I certainly remember being made fun of when I was younger for being sensitive and bookish, as he was. Also, I found the discussion he leads on Northanger Abbey absolutely hilarious, especially when he admits that he read Udolpho, and many of the ladies disclose they didn’t even know it was a real book!

Overall, though, I really disliked this book, and for me this summary quote (from the epilogue) was the last straw: “We’d let Austen into our lives, and now we were all either married or dating.” When I first read that, I did a double-take. No! The image of Auntie Jane as some sort of good fairy, who brings romantic fulfillment to people who read her novels, is truly banal. I deplore it.

The Jane Austen Book Club proves that a book doesn’t have to be fluff to be cheap and vulgar. Not recommended.
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LibraryThing member elliepotten
'The Jane Austen Book Club' is one of those novels that might be dismissed as 'chick lit' but actually turns out to be a sharp, witty, intelligent and well-written book that, whilst certainly a light read, is also one to be deliciously savoured.

The premise is simple but original. A group of friends
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start a book club. Not just any book club, but, in light of their collective issues with modern life, an 'All-Jane-Austen-All-The-Time' book club. Six people, six books, with each of the group hosting the meeting for their chosen novel. The chapters are structured around these meetings, so the first chapter is 'MARCH, CHAPTER 1... in which we gather at Jocelyn's to discuss Emma', and so on. In each chapter the host's history and personality is more fully explored, the month's novel is discussed (but never so much that it bores or alienates the reader), and at the same time the other characters are lightly threaded through the background to keep the overall plot evolving.

As well as showcasing Austen's novels, this is very much a character piece. Each of the six book club members are entirely individual and it makes for much more interesting and amusing reading. Bernadette is a serial wife, rather eccentric and flamboyant, with a liking for yoga and Pride and Prejudice. Loyal Sylvia works at the library and has just had her life shattered by her husband Daniel's confession that he is leaving her for another woman. Her beautiful daughter Allegra is constantly doing daring things - not always without paying the price - and is getting over a devastating betrayal by her ex-girlfriend Corinne. Jocelyn is a dominant terminal singleton, afraid of being hurt and making up for it by matchmaking everyone else. Prudie is a rather artificial, self-conscious young French teacher who doesn't quite know how to interact with other people without coming across all wrong. And Grigg, poor Grigg, a sci-fi fan and Austen virgin brought into the group by Jocelyn as a distraction for Sylvia, entirely out of his depth and trying not to make an idiot of himself. The novel is narrated by a kind of all-seeing other, one who describes each character in the third person but frequently mentions 'us' and 'we'; part of the fun of the reading is trying to work out which of the six, if any, might be telling the story.

Thus characters are deepened, love blossoms and dies and blooms again, and the story goes on. Of course it ends with optimism, hope and a well-timed bit of Austen wisdom. To my surprise, at the end of the book Fowler has also added some little extras which add to the reading experience - some contemporary and modern literary criticism of Austen and her novels, a brief summary of each of the books (handy for those not familiar with all of the works, or those who might want a quick refresher on characters and plots), and at the VERY end, a funny set of 'Questions for Discussion' on Austen AND Fowler presented by each of the six book club members.

Clearly a liking for Jane Austen helps when reading this novel, but ultimately there is nothing in here that should put off a less knowledgeable reader, particularly given the handy summaries at the back (which I wish I'd noticed earlier, I must admit). It is a scrumptious book - funny, romantic, inspiring and positive - and definitely one I'll be keeping to read again.

I'd also highly recommend the recent movie of the book (starring Maria Bello, Maggie Grace and Hugh Dancy), which is surprisingly faithful to the book in spite of its challenging structure, and just as sparkling!
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LibraryThing member xicanti
Five women and one man come together to read the complete works of Jane Austen.

I initially liked this book very much. I found it very readable, and I appreciated the structure. It's well-paced, and Fowler presents some lovely character studies as she moves through the months, (and the Jane Austen
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novels), with these individuals. There are some good parallels between the characters' lives and the books they study, too. It was an interesting premise, and Fowler seemed set to make it pay.

As the book progressed, though, I felt my interest wane. Each character receives very little attention after her or his chapter is over. There's almost no further growth. The parallels wane somewhat, too, and the Jane Austen discussion fades into the background. I found it rather unsatisfying.

In the end, this was a mildly entertaining book, but certainly nothing special. I felt okay about passing along to someone else.
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LibraryThing member harrietbrown
This book is about a group of friends who get together to read all of Jane Austen's novels over the course of a year, and what happens to them during that year. I think it was meant as a kind of a Valentine to Jane Austen from the author, Karen Joy Fowler, because she clearly loves her work. It
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doesn't matter whether you've read Austen's novels or not (I haven't), you can still enjoy the book and the author gives a synopsis of each of the novels at the end of the book. I enjoyed the way the characters were drawn. Each member of the book club leads a discussion of a particular book each month, and during the chapter for that month, we learn about the member of the book club leading the discussion. Austen ties into their lives in unexpected ways, and the interaction between the characters and the text of the novels and their lives is the dynamic that moves the book forward.

I recommend this book for a short, light read. I got through it in one day, and I didn't have to stay up very late.
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LibraryThing member framberg
I had been looking forward to this as a bit of light reading since I heard about it a couple of years ago. I like Jane Austen, I like books about reading, I'm not adverse to a little chick lit, and I wasn't expecting to have my socks knocked off. Which is a good thing, because they weren't. By the
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end I cared a little bit about the characters, but not much. I guess the first person plural narrator was a nod to Austen's style, but I found it distracting. I kept thinking, "When are we going to find out about the speaker? Where's her chair on the cover?" JABC was the promised chick lit light reading, and provided a few chuckles - I especially liked the book club's interaction with mystery writer Mo Bellington and the unepxpected inspiration it provides him. But given that I found a single, throw-away page the most clever part of the novel, I can't really recommend this ultimately unsatisfying read.
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LibraryThing member cee2
A group of 6 persons decide to read the novels of Jane Austen together and meet for discussion as a monthly book club. The book club is a framework for learning about each of the persons as individuals and their relationships - with fellow group members and others, both current and past.
I found
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myself only mildly interested in the characters. The Austen discussion was merely a loose framework to learn about the characters which structure in itself wasn't necessarily bad. However, I didn't see that Austen's novels informed the characters' insight in very strong ways. I was distracted by the narrator who appears to be a member of the book club, but apparently wasn't. I finished the book but wasn't sure I would at several points and was relieved there were only 6 novels for the club to get through.
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LibraryThing member mefnord
5 women from their late twenties to their early sixties and one man somewhat in between, ages wise (either too old or too young for any of them), form the Jane Austen Book Club. Each Chapter is dedicated to one of Austen's books and focuses on one of the characters. In the end everyone has settles
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down to everyone's satisfaction - OMG just like in the Austen books! So clever.

I was disappointed in this book. I heard so many good things and the little critique quotes on the book made me anticipate a funny and wise read.

The first thing that threw me was the weird use of a collective "we" as the narrator's voice. Either all of the women speak in unison the whole time (Grigg, as the male, wasn't included in the "we" IMO) or there is in fact a seventh memeber of the bookclub. This device so didn't work for me!

To me the characters stayed flat throughout, little anecdotes of their younger selfs didn't help to establish a feeling for them today - there's a lot of telling instead of showing going on. I always felt like being led to the point where I would be able to understand the reasons for their reactions and decision in events to come - but when those events finally came around - a Magic-8-Ball made all the decisions for the characters. No kidding. *seethes*

Weird shifts of POV made it hard to read at times, again especially in regard to the male character. His chapter mainly consists of Jocelyn's POV and what was up with that? Why include a male if his only reason to be there is to bring in the unworthy science fiction geek factor? Oh, and to be part of the "Emma"-Jocelyn comparison? And to hammer down the point that men won't function w/o women in their lives?(which is why Grigg needs one of his sisters to make everything right for him.)

Every other male is perfect in his own faulty husband-y way, by the way. Even the sinner is forgiven.

In the end I also felt like there were many plot ends still floating about: like why the hell didn't Allegra, the open lesbian who tells everyone about her sexuality, tell Grigg about it? There is much ado about that in the novel, (so that I believed she was interested in Grigg) but this was obviously only a lead on as the question is never answered.

Fan that I am: Buffy the Vampire Slayer referencing, yay!

So, on the whole, a light read, and good if one (me!) doesn't start to think too hard about what is being said. Or doesn't over analyze everything, I guess.
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LibraryThing member leebot
I just could not get into this book and did not finish it. As a Jane Austen fan, I was intrigued by the title, but found the characters and plot utterly predictable and boring. To be fair, I do not read fiction as a rule, and when I do, I want the prose to be outstanding and the characters to be
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well developed.
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
I remember reading somewhere that one reviewer found Fowler too clever. I think I agree. Generally, I enjoyed this and found some of Fowler's observations more insightful than I had expected them to be, but overall I wish she had done a little more characterizing for its own sake and a little less
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paralleling Austen (dare I say, for its own sake). Still, enjoyable, and trips right along. A suitable summer read.
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LibraryThing member rachelellen
Blah. Don't bother. Austen fans won't find as much meat as they'd hope to, and people who haven't read or don't like Austen will be bored to tears. The plot's mighty thin, and the book discussions around which it revolves seem really... pale and bland to me.
LibraryThing member cmc
Very, very enjoyable. All about a group of women (and one man) reading Austen’s oeuvre and meeting to discuss it. For each of Austen’s books, we have a meeting at one person’s house, and we get backstory on that individual that, coincidentally, tends to have a bit to do with the particular
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Austen novel being discussed.

There are also some other neat touches, such as the conflict (?) between reading science fiction and Austen. We see the rise and fall of several relationships along the way, as well.

As a crowning touch, the book ends with some background material on Austen (notably a long series of quotes from her family and friends as well as critics and contemporary authors about her books) and, last but not least, a series of questions for discussion in a book club setting from each of the main characters.

Wonderful fun!
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LibraryThing member max212
This book was disappointing. While I usually enjoy Jane-referencing reading, this book rambled on and was drudery to read. The characters were more than a bit plastic and the storyline predictable.
LibraryThing member jepeters333
Six Californians join to discuss Jane Austen's novels; over the six months they meet, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable, and love happens
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors--maybe even my top favorite. I'm not sure how appealing this book would be to those who don't know her and like her writing. There's not only a lot of comments about her books, but a lot of allusions in the situations of the present day characters--ones not
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pointed out or obvious.

Austen wrote six mature novels and this book deals with a book club made up of six characters each with their own chapter--there's Bernadette the oldest at 67; Prudie the youngest in her twenties; Jocelyn and Sylvia, best friends in their fifties who have known each other since they were eleven; Sylvia's 30-year-old lesbian daughter Allegra and the token male Grigg who is in his forties. The first line is, "Each of us has a private Austen." Each section focuses on a member of the book club as they meet to discuss one of the books. For instance the first book is Emma and in between the discussion we learn the story of Jocelyn, a dog breeder who like Austen's heroine could be described as handsome, clever and rich. The second section and book is the turn of Sense and Sensibility and we focus on Allegra who, like Marianne, is convinced passion should be the focus of life and is something of a drama queen. At that point I was already wondering what role each would take on as the book proceeded. Would the token male be identified with Darcy, the most famous of Austen's male characters? Would Sylvie, going through a difficult divorce, the quiet caregiver, get a second chance at love like Anne Eliot?

I think poor Grigg was my favorite. I felt almost embarrassed for my gender at the way the others treated him in the novel. Bernadette thought he shouldn't have been included in the club, Allegra is rudely challenging to his first remarks and Jocelyn is condescending and dismissive about his love of science fiction. At the end, when he suggests they read Patrick O'Brien's nautical adventures next, the collective reaction is that you could go from O'Brien to Austen, but you can't stoop from Austen to O'Brien. I find that bit of book snobbishness a shame. Great literature should broaden, not narrow, and ironically O'Brien was himself a fan of Austen, and it shows in his style. There's also this odd use of first person plural--use of "we," "us" and "our" that didn't work for me. Yet at the end I did feel affection for all the characters, and I admit I got a geeky enjoyment in wallowing at all the Austen lore. (Including my silent, "You tell them, sister" at complaints of the Mansfield Park film adaptation.) So, not sure if this is for Austen lovers only, but as one that qualifies as a fan, yes, I did enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
This book did not deliver like I hoped it would. The six main characters are the members of a book club established to read the six novels of Jane Austen. Each chapter is devoted to one of Austen's novels and to one of the main characters. But this structure chopped up the story into disparate
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segments. The stories were only loosely connected to each other with the thinnest of cohesive plots.

My real gripe, though, was the connection between the characters' stories and the Austen novels. I caught some general similarities between the characters here and in Austen’s books, but I do not know if the stories of these six characters were supposed to parallel the plots of Austen’s novels. I consider myself a big Austen fan. Just last year I read all six of the novels, most for the second, some for the third time. Still, I don't have instant recall of the plots and characters in each novel, and this book does not give many clues that would connect the Austen novels to the story.

In fact, the author barely mentions the storylines of the Austen novels at all. References to the novels usually concern comments about the personalities of various characters, but with so little context that they could have been comments about anyone. "Mr. Parsons had a cutting wit" or "Lucy was too prissy" are meaningless without a little reminder of Austen's plot to tie everything together.

This is a pretty short book. It would have been fairly easy to pull in more details from Austen's novels without bogging down the story or condescending to the readers.
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LibraryThing member lisaquing
I'd seen the movie (and didn't really like it), but now that I've read ALL OF AUSTEN'S NOVELS (go me!), I thought it might be worth a read. I both really liked this novel and really disliked it. What I didn't like? The odd point of view (told 1st person plural, but I never really figured out who
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was speaking). The many flashbacks inserted willy-nilly. The gay storyline (although it was not as prevalent as in the movie. Also, the high school teacher/student romance was almost non-existent, although in the movie, it was much more serious and distasteful). What I liked? The characters! Reading about Austen's plots and characters and understanding it! Worth a read? Sure, if you like Austen.
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LibraryThing member LizHD
Okay book--entertaining and well written but just not…as good as Jane Austen! Interesting premise--each club member has a different "concept" of Jane, and each month is focused on a different book, which certainly humbled me (my recall of Jane Austen is very modest, I don't remember a lot of plot
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details and tend to get the novels jumbled together mentally--I can't remember who went to Bath (or London) in which novel...but still, rather forced... and (like Jane Austen) overly optimistic on the prospects of middle-aged "true love" (sigh). (Seriously, if you have the time to devote to it, I would suggest re-reading Jane Austen)
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LibraryThing member Kirconnell
A book about readers, book clubs, and fans of Jane Austen. At first, I was at a disadvantage since I haven't read any of Austen's book (fans don't throw anything. I've seen the films and I plan to real all her novels as time allows), but as I started to learn about the members of the club I enjoyed
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myself more. I really liked Grigg the SF fan who joined the club. He was a blast. You just never know who is going to show up in a book club.
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LibraryThing member trinityofone
What a wonderful surprise. This was great, so much more than the light, fluffy lit it would seem to be. Fowler's story follows six protagonists as they read Austen's six novels, with each character linked to a specific novel; it's very cleverly, subtly done. There are some fantastic narrative
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tricks—none of which seems showoff-y: parts of the novel are written in the second person, the collective "we" of the book group; the book concludes with the characters' hilarious "discussion questions" to you, the novel's readers. There's also some interesting stuff about gender; I especially liked Grigg, the club's sole male, whom Fowler reveals to be "a born heroine." This book made me incredibly happy.
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LibraryThing member parelle
To my surprise, I admit, this is a good book. Filled with funny insights and lively characters, this really captured the lives of the women - and one man reading Austen.

And I liked the Patrick O'Brian references. But, I swear, you can fall in love over a plate of toasted cheese!
LibraryThing member coolcat
Every word is a pure delight. I was sad when I came to the last page because such greatness is hard to come by.
LibraryThing member celticstar
I'd heard a lot about this book and then found it quite difficult to get into. I persevered and it did get better and I finished the second half quite quickly.
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Simply, this book is uninteresting. With regular mentions of Austen's works and characters, this book might at best make you wish to return to those earlier stories (as I ended up doing soon after finishing this), but it won't accomplish much more. I appreciate what the author is attempting and
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trying to recreate for modern times, but there simply isn't enough here. The characters come off as flat more often than not, and often seem unbelieveable. No aspect of this book seems to have been given more than cursory time, and I found that while it was an easy read, it was far from enjoyable along the way.
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LibraryThing member bookwormteri
I really enjoyed this book, although it did take me a while to get into it. The characters did not start out very well drawn to me. I had a difficult time differentiating between them until they became more alive throughout the chapters. I loved them all by the time I finished the book. Now I guess
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that I am going to have to read some Jane Austen.
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LibraryThing member bookCelt
Enjoyable read where life reflects fiction as we follow the lives of the members of the Jane Austen Book Club. As each title is discussed we see the parallels in the characters' lives as Fowler shows us that the conventions of modern society are not so vastly different as in Austen's world. While
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not necessary, a re-reading of Austen's titles certainly makes for deeper insights and appreciation of Fowler's craft.
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