Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Jane Austen Book Club (Karen Joy Fowler)

I would never have picked up this book unless I had heard a couple reviewers/fans (mostly on NPR, I think) say that it wasn't actually about Jane Austen. Not that I have anything against Jane Austen. I mean, I hardly know her. I haven't read any of her books, which given my two degrees in English may be alarming news to some.

But to say this book isn't about Jane Austen is a disservice to the writer, Karen Joy Fowler. While The Jane Austen Book Club is about the main characters who meet each week to discuss Austen, you also learn a whole lot about Austen through the course of the novel (there's a lot of research and work going on behind the scenes that is presented seamlessly in the book--that's a sign of a great author). This makes Austen accessible to those who haven't read her books.

This book is quiety wonderful. The writing isn't show-offy, gimmicky, or in love with itself. And for those who love Austen, this book will have yet another rich layer that should make it an even more wonderful read.

At the end of the book, there are a few nonfiction sections such as "Reader's Guide" that gives brief plot synopsis and "The Response" that gives the criticism both from Austen's family and friends and writers up to present time. I did skim much of this part, but that could be because I was at the train station waiting for the light rail to take me home and I was tired and cranky because I had strained a back/shoulder muscle that morning at the gym and had been sore all day. But a few gems from this section are Mark Twain's comment ("Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.") and a 1940 MGM advertisement for the movie Pride and Prejudice ("Five charming sisters on the gayest, merriest manhunt that ever snared a bewildered bachelor! Girls! Take a lesson from these husband hunters!") I also very much enjoyed the "Discussion Questions" at the very end of the book written from the point-of-views of the main characters.

I'm probably not going to pick up any Jane Austen very soon. For me, that kind of reading is not conducive to reading on the train. But I did see her novels at the library last night, and I paused for just a moment near them, so who knows.

Next book up: The Wedding by Imraan Coovadia

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