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I picked this book up a few years ago in a charity shop, because (a) it was ridiculously cheap, and (b) I like Jane Austen.  I finally got around to reading it because I watched the film adaptation a few weeks ago, and really enjoyed it, and I wanted to see how the book and film compared.  Of the many reviews I’ve read of this book since finishing it myself, the vast majority are unfavourable, but while I can see what might put people off, I actually enjoyed it a lot.

Six friends start a book club which meets once a month, to discuss the novels of Jane Austen.  Each takes their turn at hosting, and while the novel does discuss their meetings, it takes much more time to describe each character’s back story, and the issues which they are facing in their current life.  The narration is quite unusual – it is as if the book club has a collective consciousness, and it is from the point of view of this consciousness that the story is told; I can see how that could irritate, but for me anyway, it worked.  I did think that the characters were pretty well drawn, although two of them – Prudie and Bernadette – seemed slightly set apart from the other four, this possibly being because the other four had connections between them that excluded Prudie and Bernadette (this may also explain why these two characters were my least favourites).

It’s a very charming book, if slightly predictable.  Not entirely predictable however – the resolutions of Sylvia’s and Allegra’s stories were not what I had expected (or at least in Sylvia’s case, it would have been unexpected, but I knew what happened, only because I had seen the film).  However, as each chapter is devoted mainly to one character (that being whoever is hosting the book club that month), it almost feels like a series of separate short stories which relate to each other through shared characters.

I wouldn’t say that you need to like, or even to have read any Austen novels to enjoy this book, as in truth, only small parts of the books are devoted to the actual book club meetings – in fact, you could probably have written this book about any author’s works (Karen Joy Fowler is clearly a big Austen fan, as she notes in her acknowledgements) – but I do think it helps, as I found myself nodding along with the assessments of certain Austen characters.  I enjoyed it a lot, but on balance, I’m not sure I would read it again, while I would certainly watch the film adaptation again.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of the 2007 film adaptation.

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Based on the novel of the same name by Karen Joy Fowler, this film is about six Californians – five women and one man – who start a book club to discuss Jane Austen’s novels.  The various members are facing challenges in their lives, and the club and the books themselves prove therapeutic in helping them to deal with their own problems.

I haven’t read the book that the film was adapted from, but I’m intending to make it the very next one on my pile, because I loved this gem of a movie.  It had some very funny moments, but mostly it was sweet, utterly charming and moving.  The cast had terrific chemistry, and the lifelong friendship between dog-loving control freak Jocelyn (Maria Bello) and recently separated Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) was completely believeable.  The remaining members of the cast – Maggie Grace as Sylvia’s daughter daredevil daughter Allegra, Kathy Baker as the matriarchal six-time divorcee Bernadette, Emily Blunt as the buttoned up and discontented French teacher Prudie, and Hugh Dancy as the absolutely adorable Grigg – all fitted perfectly into their roles, and the main cast is rounded out by Jimmy Smits, as Sylvia’s philandering husband Daniel, Marc Blucas as Prudie’s insensitive husband Dean (although I thought Dean was a more likeable character than Prudie!), and Kevin Zegers as a student who Prudie falls for.  Jimmy Smits was actually my main reason for wanting to see this film, as I think he is rather lovely, but I was charmed by the whole cast, and Hugh Dancy has a new fan!

I would heartily recommend this film, whether or not you are a fan of Jane Austen (you do not need to have read the novels to watch this film) – it’s a definite keeper for me, and one I shall be watching again.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Robin Swicord

Producers: Marshall Rose, John Calley, Julie Lynn, Diana Napper, Jonathan McCoy, Lisa Medwid, Kelly Thomas

Writers: Karen Joy Fowler (book), Robin Swicord

Main cast: Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, Emily Blunt, Hugh Dancy, Jimmy Smits, Kevin Zegers, Marc Blucas

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Click here for my review of the novel.

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