marginalia || The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler

Appropriate subtitle? Reading About People Reading Jane Austen (Without Having Read Jane Austen Myself). We are getting quite meta here, aren’t we? So, some clarifications are in order:

[1] Yes, I saw the movie first, stumbled upon it on HBO one slow evening. Yes, I loved it to bits, and I think I fell in love with Emily Blunt (playing Prudie) in that movie—that scene where she puts her dressy shoes on in the car is champion. And I knew I wanted to read the novel eventually. (Something has to be said about book adaptations that make you want to read the book, no?)

[2] Nope, I have not read Jane Austen. Don’t take them battle-axes out, I am working on this oversight—I’m including Austen in my Awesome Authors Challenge 2010 list, and am reading Pride and Prejudice just to see what the fuss is all about regarding Darcy (because I am a manic Team Rochester banner waver). And I might just read Mansfield Park, because, yes, because of the movie. So yes, I will read Jane Austen. I will.

This one’s a find in my BookSale Spelunking last Wednesday. As I said in that post, “When I saw The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, I knew I was going to take it home—I’d seen it at full price over at National Bookstore, and it had been haunting me since I watched the movie (which I loved, considering I am far from a Jane Austen fan).” Six people gather every month to go through Austen’s works, one book per month, and as we sit with the characters as they discuss the novels, we’re given a peek into their lives beyond the room, beyond Austen. There’s a mix of characters that run the gamut of your usual spectrum of character-descriptions, and I think it’s inevitable that you pick favorites—mine are Allegra and Prudie (although I suspect I like her more because I loved her in the movie), and maybe Grigg. In relation to that, I appreciate how Fowler took the risk to present us with characters that aren’t consistently likeable—as with people, sometimes you catch them when they’re not on their best behavior.

So. What to make of a book about people reading Jane Austen? Well, it got me really dorky. A recent trend in my reading lately’s been concerned with books-about-books. Or rather, books-about-reading. I guess it’s a mix of pure booklurving and a dash of voyeurism—erm, intellectual curiosity. And what I found very intriguing (and rewarding) about Fowler’s novel is that she reveals the readers/characters themselves, how their lives have been, what their lives are like while (almost incidentally), they’re reading the Austen book of the month.

What I liked about the novel was that, for someone like myself who hasn’t actually read Jane Austen, the discussions about the novels weren’t alienating. And, for more happiness to the book dork, there are a lot of “supplementary” tidbits scattered around the book, like trivia, especially the ones after the chapters. The Reading Group Guide, in particular, really carries the whole meta thing further, and gives us questions from the characters themselves. It was hilarious. And it made me giddy. Typical of the book dork, aye?

However. About two-thirds into the book, I realized that I treated the novel as a companion to the movie—that it was a deeper look into the lives of the characters that have grown familiar to me. I suppose that’s not a very good thing to say about a book, especially considering that the movie was adapted from it. I liked the novel, but I wouldn’t really know if I’d still like this book independent of the movie adaptation. But then again, I shouldn’t think of this as a problem.

In fairness, it all made me want to read Austen even more.

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3 comments

  1. I love Jane Austen!!!! Although between you and me I enjoy the theatrical versions, don’t tell anyone my deep dark secret, okay? Pride and Prejudice, you have to read because of Mark Darcy, its so good *whispers* the movie is even betterI also liked Jane Austen’s Persuasion *whispers* and the BBC movie.

    1. I didn’t even know Darcy’s first name is Mark, haha. I want to check out what’s so swoon-able about Colin Firth, er, Darcy. Yes. Him.

  2. […] Sasha & The Silverfish – “What I liked about the novel was that, for someone like myself who hasn’t actually read Jane Austen, the discussions about the novels weren’t alienating.” […]

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