Jane Austen Book Club (Review)

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The Jane Austen Book Club
Karen Joy Fowler
288 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May 2008

Change of plans. I'd actually been working on a different theme for this month, one more serious and...um, profound. But then I finally got around to reading Fowler's book (finished it an hour ago) and decided I really wanted to talk about it.

One of the primary motifs in The Jane Austen Book Club is happiness—and it came to me that happiness, as an ideal, is profound in its own way.

One man and five women, all great readers who are passionate about literature, get together to read Jane Austen's six works. We're invited to join in ... in the club and also in members' lives. Each of them knows and loves a different Jane Austen, one that accommodates his or her own world view and life experiences.

Fowler is interested in how we read: we read through the lens of our own experiences—but what we read can also shape the way we see our lives, sometimes transforming them. Fowler explores this reciprocity with humor and sympathy. It's a clever and fun book, especially for Austen fans, who will pick out themes and parallel events from her works.

The club members observe that all of Austen's works end happily—and club member Allegra (nicely ironic name) thinks that makes Austen dangerous. Is it dangerous to believe that life should turn out happily? Another member asks older and wiser Bernadette if she believes in happy endings? "Oh my Lord, yes," she answers. "I've had a hundred of them." Elsewhere, members debate whether Austen's characters—and real people—deserve the happiness they get...or get the happiness they deserve. In other words, must we earn happiness or does it come to us gratuitously...or what?

A smart, funny, thought-provoking book—don't miss this one. (There is a film. But really...I don't know. It's enjoyable, but don't go out of your way.)

Ssee our Reading Guide for The Jane Austen Book Club.

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