43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Elegant and compelling Austen update,
This review is from: The Jane Austen Book Club (Paperback)
At the beginning of this novel Fowler declares, "Each of us has a private Austen," and it's hard to disagree. Unfortunately, for many people Austen is quaint and reassuring, qualities which "The Jane Austen Book Club" is most definitely not.
Rather, like my own private Austen, it is cynical, intelligent and more than a little barbed as Fowler introduces us to the six members of the Central Valley/River City all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club: Jocelyn, Sylvia, Bernadette, Allegra, Prudie and Grigg.
There were a few moments at the beginning when I felt a little uneasy. I wasn't prepared for the sex scenes (this is supposed to be Jane Austen territory after all) but Fowler has an eye for detail and I pressed on. Luckily I soon started to warm to the quintet of club members (particularly Grigg) and by the end I felt I wanted to hug them all. They emerge fully-rounded and the author seems equally adept at describing the lives of middle-aged Sylvia and Jocelyn as she does the dynamics of teenage friendships amongst Prudie's school students. She even makes the most prosaic things come alive. I loved the descriptions of summer evenings on Valley verandas as characters munch slices of Kentucky bourbon cake, creme de menthe squares and almond crescent cookies.
Austen herself even makes an appearance of a kind towards the end to nudge the plot along, in the form of a doctored black magic 8-ball created by the artistic Allegra. As the novel closes things become ever more Austen-like as the group hastens towards a happy conclusion.
Fowler's playfulness reminded me of the campus novels of David Lodge, with something of the sensibility of Alice Sebold thrown in, as she mixes the story of the book club with straight-faced accounts of characters' dreams or hobbies and real-life critiques of Austen novels.
I'm still not sure how Allegra managed to find the only taxi driver in Rome who doesn't speak English (has Fowler never visited the city?) or how Jocelyn, working in accounts at a small vineyard, manages to live in the most expensive house, but JABC made me laugh out loud. It is my favourite book of 2004.