The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

#41 in my 2007 book challenge was Karen Joy Fowler’s Jane Austen Book Club, a movie of which is coming soon to a theater near you.

When she spoke at The Twin Cities’ Book Fest a few years ago, she said she was at a bookstore reading for another author, and saw a sign for “The Jane Austen Book Club.”

She thought it was a great title, and decided to buy the book and was speculating on what the plot would be when she realized that the flyer was for a book group, not a book about a book group. Then she realized she wanted to write that book, or perhaps that she had to.

I know I’m not the only one who’s glad she did. I read this book in 2004. At the time, I’d read Pride and Prejudice once, and seen the A & E miniseries, as well as the films Mansfield Park and Clueless, which is based on Austen’s Emma. Fowler’s novel revolves through six characters, each of whom host a discussion of one of Austen’s six completed novels. Cleverly, there is also an email interlude that pays homage to Austen’s unfinished work. (Sanditon or Lady Susan, I think.)

I liked Fowler’s characters, and their development over the book. I also liked their discussion of Austen’s novels and the various interpretations. This made me want to read all six novels, which I now have done: Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. I wondered how these readings would affect my experience of TJABC.

At first, I experienced literary vertigo and whiplash. There were now so many layers to Fowler’s writing and characters. Like Austen, she has a biting wit, and her book was full of sentences begging to be underlined and read aloud. Characters brought to mind one Austen character, then later another. The plots paralleled Austen, diverged, then came together again.

The first time I read TJABC, I liked it, and it inspired me to read six novels that I at least admired, and often enjoyed. This time, it impressed me greatly. Fowler not only wrote a book that stands on its own, but she simultaneously made it an homage to Austen’s writing, stories and characters. This re-reading of Fowler’s book makes me want to re-read Austen’s books. Fowler has created a lovely book that can keep on giving, both to current and future admirers of Jane.

In the book one character and her husband are fans of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the movie, the husband is played by Marc Blucas, who played Buffy’s boyfriend Riley on the show.

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