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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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