The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

The Jane Austen Book Club cover

We were having a look at the books for sale at the library and Jack spotted The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, he said the author was meant to be good so I bought it – for all of 30p, it’s a paperback. I usually avoid Jane Austen spin-off things as I’ve been burned before by them – I should have stuck to my guns. I’ll be giving this one just two stars on Goodreads, it just wasn’t my cup of tea at all.

The book group consists of mainly middle-aged women, two are mother and daughter, most of them have been friends for a long time, since schooldays in some cases. One is getting on in years, one has just been abandoned by her husband of 30 odd years, the youngest is a lesbian and there’s a newcomer, a man called Grigg. He’s newly redundant, has moved to the area as it’s a cheaper place to live, he’s really into science fiction and has never read anything by Jane Austen before. They’ve never had a man in the book group before.

One of the women is a matchmaker, another makes thoughtless cutting remarks to others … you get the idea I’m sure.

Jane Austen was supremely self-deprecating when she said:
‘Three or four families in a country village are the very thing to work on.’ It takes a lot more than that to write a great book. There are three or four families involved in the book group, but none of the characters is interesting or even likeable.

It’s a mystery to me why this book was a best seller but I suppose the title has an awful lot to do with that, rather than the contents. I imagine that the people who have disliked it most are the ones who love Jane Austen’s books.

I’m quite annoyed with myself for choosing this one as my first book of the year, but I often do read a book as soon as I buy it, ignoring the many that are waiting patiently on my bookshelves. There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to it.

You might be able to see on the cover that the author Alice Sebold said of this book: ‘If I could eat this novel, I would’ – each to their own! Really if I could afford to I would send Sebold a sort of Red Cross parcel of good books, but I suppose it is just as well we are all different.

Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?

12 thoughts on “The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

  1. I share your skepticism of Jane Austen spin off books and movies, so I would probably have had the same opinion if I’d read it. Thanks for saving me the temptation! It’s kind of sad how many writers and movie companies use really wonderful authors and their reputation for the purposes of profit, but I guess it’s all part of the system we love and enjoy.

    Paula

    • Paula,
      It is all part of the system, but it isn’t often that I watch the film of a book and am impressed by it. The book is usually so much better, sometimes I wonder if they actually read the book at all!

  2. I listened to this one on audiobook and remember I generally liked it – I particularly remember the stories of Prudie and her mother, and Grigg and his sisters. I had seen the movie first, so maybe that helped, having in mind the actors/actresses who played the characters in the movie?

    But generally, yes, I’m highly skeptical of Jane Austen spin-offs, and have not had much success with the couple I’ve tried.

    • Christy,
      I think that Val McDermid’s take on Northanger Abbey was quite well done but others have been fairly dire. She set it in Edinburgh during the festival so that may have enhanced my enjoyment of it.

  3. I read this ages ago and remember being disappointed. I think I was one of the many seduced by ‘Jane Austen’ in the title – plus I like books about books, or book clubs. I am rather tempted by the recent range of Austen rewrites though. Then I remember ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ and that’s enough to remind me of the risks!

  4. Greetings, Katrina!
    I did try this book and had to send it back to the library after page 40. My thoughts about it are similar to yours.
    I must say I was aghast when I learned P.D. James published the Pemberley novel. How could one of my favorite authors go down that path! So I was not tempted to read the book, BUT I must say Ken and I thoroughly enjoyed the Masterpiece Classics adaptation of the novel. Not enough to go back and read the novel, however!
    There is a Jane Austen spin-off novel that I did enjoy. It had a Christmas theme–Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron. It was slow-going about 2/3rds of the way through, but I didn’t mind. The family is snowbound with a houseful of visitors and, of course, a murder mystery. It was good fun.

    • Judith,
      I’ve not heard of the Stephanie Barron book, it would have been good for pre-Christmas reading. I was disappointed in Death Comes to Pemberley but we ended up watching it on TV too and enjoyed it.

  5. Don’t get me started on the people making money off Jane Austen. I don’t mean examinations of her life and work, just people taking shortcuts and using her plots and characters. It’s truly annoying. I admit that I did buy this book before I became a more discerning reader, but it’s just mediocre.

    • Karen K,
      You would think that publishers would think that the market was saturated with Austen spin offs by now – but apparently not. I really enjoyed reading her collected letters published by the Folio Book Society. It’s a real window into the social history of the time.

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