Summary and book reviews of The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

The Jane Austen Book Club

By Karen Joy Fowler

The Jane Austen Book Club
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2004,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: May 2005,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

Nothing ever moves in a straight line in Karen Joy Fowler's fiction, and in her latest, the complex dance of modern love has never been so devious or so much fun.

Six Californians join to discuss Jane Austen's novels. Over the six months they meet, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable, and love happens. With her finely sighted eye for the frailties of human behavior and her finely tuned ear for the absurdities of social intercourse, Fowler has never been wittier nor her characters more appealing. The result is a delicious dissection of modern relationships.

Dedicated Austenites will delight in unearthing the echoes of Austen that run through the novel, but most readers will simply enjoy the vision and voice that, despite two centuries of separation, unite two great writers of brilliant social comedy.

Chapter One

in which we gather
at Jocelyn's
to discuss
Emma

We sat in a circle on Jocelyn's screened porch at dusk, drinking cold sun tea, surrounded by the smell of her twelve acres of fresh-mowed California grass. There was a very pretty view. The sunset had been a spectacular dash of purple, and now the Berryessa mountains were shadowed in the west. Due south in the springtime, but not the summer, was a stream.

"Just listen to the frogs," Jocelyn said. We listened. Apparently, somewhere beneath the clamor of her kennel of barking dogs was a chorus of frogs.

She introduced us all to Grigg. He had brought the Gramercy edition of the complete novels, which suggested that Austen was merely a recent whim. We really could not approve of someone who showed up with an obviously new book, of someone who had the complete novels on his lap when only Emma was under discussion. Whenever he first spoke, whatever he said, one of us would have to put him in his place. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
Real people are really complicated," says Jocelyn, the founder of the "Central Valley/River City all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club." And the members of her newly founded book club certainly prove this to be true. Each has a story to tell, and much like an Austen novel, the intricate plots that are their own lives are slowly revealed. There's Sylvia, Jocelyn's friend of forty years, who is in the midst of a painful divorce. Her daughter, Allegra, beautiful, vivacious, a "creature of extremes" who finds her thrills through skydiving and rock-climbing but can't seem to find love. There's Bernadette, the oldest member at sixty-seven, a woman who has married well, several times at that, and even had a brush ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Christian Science Monitor

I'm instinctively wary of genetic engineering, but Karen Fowler may have produced a literary equivalent of the elusive Super Tomato.

BookPage

Though Fowler takes Austen as her inspiration, she clearly possesses her own unique voice and gift for storytelling.

The New York Times Book Review - Margot Livesey

What strikes one first is the voice robust, sly, witty, elegant, unexpected.

Time Out New York

Fowler has fashioned a deft, witty multiple-character study and closely observed comedy of romantic manners.

San Francisco Chronicle

Karen Joy Fowler deserves every success this savvy, episodic but chamois-smooth novel can bring.

The New York Times - Richard Eder

The thoughts are more than literary discussion. They bring out the characters and emotions of the participants along with the tensions and sympathies that flit and filter among them. Ms. Fowler has the genial notion to see in the book club — that newish American cultural phenomenon — a society resembling nothing so much as one of those sets of country gentry among which Austen constructed a social comedy where irony stiffens sentiment, and pain is a cool afterthought.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review - Patricia T. O'Conner

What results is Fowler's shrewdest, funniest fiction yet, a novel about how we engage with a novel. You don't have to be a student of Jane Austen to enjoy it, either. At the end are plot synopses of all six Austen novels for the benefit of the forgetful, the uninitiated or the nostalgic.

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda

It's just as hard to explain quite why The Jane Austen Book Club is so wonderful. But that it is wonderful will soon be widely recognized, indeed, a truth universally acknowledged. 

Kirkus Reviews

Bright, engaging, dexterous literary entertainment for everyone, though with many special treats and pleasures for Janeites.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. Fowler, a captivating and good-hearted satirist, exuberantly pays homage to and matches wits with Jane Austen in her most pleasurable novel to date by portraying six irresistible Californians who meet once a month to discuss Austen's six novels. Fellow Austenites will love Fowler's fluency in the great novelist's work; every reader will relish Fowler's own ebullient comedy of manners, and who knows how many book clubs will be inspired by this charming paean to books and readers. 

Author Blurb Alice Sebold
A luxuriant pleasure!

Reader Reviews
Melissa

Disappointed
I read this because of all the hype surrounding it especially for book clubs. I can't say I was overly impressed. I've read similar books that had better character development and more exciting plots. The ending was disappointingly predictable. ...   Read More

Robert

Syrupy Chick Book
Shallow characters and syrupy story line without much plot leaves the reader without much substance. Don't expect anything like the depth of "Reading Lolita in Tehran." Comic novel according to the NYT. If you want a predictable plot, sugar ...   Read More

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