Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review of the Day: The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club did not deliver like I hoped it would.

The six main characters are the members of a book club established to read the six novels of Jane Austen. Each chapter is devoted to one of Austen's novels and to one of the main characters. But this structure chopped up the story into disparate segments. The stories were only loosely connected to each other with the thinnest of cohesive plots.

My real gripe, though, was the connection between the characters' stories and the Austen novels. There were general similarities between the characters here and in Austen’s books, but I could not tell if the stories of these six characters were supposed to parallel the plots of Austen’s novels.

I consider myself a big Austen fan, having recently read all six of the novels in publication order, most for the second, some for the third, time. Still, I do not have instant recall of the plots and characters in each novel, and Karen Joy Fowler's book does not give many clues that would connect the Austen novels to the story. In fact, Fowler barely mentions the story lines of the Austen novels at all. References to the novels usually concern comments about the personalities of various characters, but with so little context that they could have been comments about anyone. "Mr. Parsons had a cutting wit" or "Lucy was too prissy" are meaningless without a little reminder of Austen's plot to tie everything together.

This is a pretty short book. It would have been fairly easy for Fowler to pull in more details from Austen's novels without bogging down the story or condescending to the readers. That kind of contextual detail would have made for a richer reading experience.

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