Monday, August 29, 2005

The Jane Austen Book Club

This was an entertaining read. You do not have to be familiar with all of Austen’s novels to enjoy the dialogue about them.

There are six members of the “Central Valley/River City all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club.” The group is made up of four women entering “middle age”, one woman in her thirties (she is the daughter of another group member) and one man, who I’m guessing is forty-something. This is a novel about their relationships both past and present.

Jocelyn began the group and invited each member personally.
Each chapter begins with a different member hosting the group and we are invited in to see their homes and learn about their lives, including how and when they met Jocelyn.

The novel reminded me a bit of How to Make an American Quilt. In that novel a young woman meets a group of elderly ladies and learns about the lives they’ve led as they work together on a group quilt, each of them sewing something of themselves into that project. In The Jane Austen Book Club, most of the ladies are entering middle-age so we learn about their lives up to this point and are left to see how Austen influences the steps they take in the next chapter of their lives.

Though the book focuses on each of the six members of the book club, Jocelyn is the central figure as she has been a part of each of their lives. She, like the other women, is a bit snobbish about the books they read and have a certain opinion about the sort of people who would read other types of books, specifically science fiction. I admit that I am not a fan of the genre myself but much like Jocelyn, I have not read much. Someone else recommended the few SF books that I have read, and I read them a long time ago.

Grigg, the sole man in the group, recommends science fiction titles to Jocelyn and also buys them for her. She waits a long time to read them but eventually, after getting to know Grigg better, she gives his books a chance.

I was expecting to gain a new appreciation for Jane Austen and probably pick one of her books to read after I finished this novel. I was not expecting to be introduced to so many other authors as I read this one. I’ve learned that I’ve been a bit snobbish myself regarding books and while I will read more of Ms. Austen, I just may try Grigg’s suggestions: The Left Hand of Darkness (I’ve actually always meant to read that anyway) and The Lathe of Heaven. After getting a glimpse of Grigg’s childhood and his father’s fascination with Stranger in a Strange Land, I may have to re-read that one too.
(It has been 18 years since I read that one and I did not remember it well.) Armed with the comments from this book and the summary I found on Amazon, I might be able to put it in better perspective. If nothing else, Ms. Fowler and Ms. Austen have already helped me better understand why it may have been recommended to me in the first place!

I recommend that you read The Jane Austen Book Club.
Then tell me what you’re inspired to read next!

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