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Customer Review

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Nothing like Jane when you're in a tight spot.", 21 July 2004
This review is from: The Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
Declaring that "each of us has a private Austen," author Karen Joy Fowler introduces the six members of the Central Valley/River City All-Jane-Austen-All-the-Time Book Club. Each of the members is responsible for leading the discussion of one of Austen's six novels when the club meets each month. Fowler develops this into a clever conceit, using each of the six club members to illustrate characteristics of Jane Austen herself, and at the same time, developing parallels between the plots of the Austen's novels and the book club members' personal lives. For readers unfamiliar with all of Austen's novels, Fowler includes brief but helpful plot summaries at the end of the book so that the innumerable parallels are clear.
Jocelyn, the founder, is single like Austen and much like Emma in personality, a woman who enjoys being in control and who has done some match-making. Allegra, a determined feminist with a female lover, is concerned with the financial implications of marriage in general and specifically in Sense and Sensibility. Prudie, a French teacher and former dancer, resembles Fanny Price in Mansfield Park when a student makes suggestive passes at her a la Henry Crawford. Grigg, the only man in the group, is a mystery to the members, but as the novel unfolds, we see his life paralleling The Mysteries of Udolpho (also summarized), on which Northanger Abbey was modeled. The forgetful Bernadette is naturally funny, a woman who enjoys the humor and happy endings of Pride and Prejudice. And Sylvia, whose husband has just left her after thirty years, is a genealogist whose life, as it unfolds here, contains parallels to Persuasion.
The novel is genuinely funny, though some parallels with Austen are more carefully developed than others. Jocelyn's explanation of dog show behavior sounds very like Austen's depiction of aristocratic parties and dances. One chapter at a modern benefit dance may be a far cry from Austen, but it has similar complications. Romance, always full of complexities in Austen, is equally complex here, but happy endings rule in both. The novel's weakness lies in its fragmentation. With six intricate Austen novels to keep track of, and the backgrounds and relationships of six modern characters to examine for parallels, the focus is too broad to lead to any identification with the modern characters, except as they illustrate Austen. And while Austen's novels reflect universal human qualities, this one is firmly grounded in the eccentricities of its twentieth century participants. Though frivolous, the novel is still clever and great fun for Austen lovers. Mary Whipple
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