When, on page 5 of this delightful, ironic homage to Jane Austen, the narrator lists the "six of us" -- the six members of "The Jane Austen Book Club" -- the reader should recognize that the narrator is herself one of those club members. Which one? The novel leaves us guessing, as we explore each member's point-of-view, personal experiences and individual response to Jane Austen.
Karen Joy Fowler is not so pretentious or presumptious as to invade Austen's authorial territory. She does not attempt to imitate or reinvent the "master." Instead, she keeps it light, offering a modern romance of manners in which we learn a little, but not alot about each character and a little, but not alot about each Austen novel. (As one reviewer notes here, the plot summaries aren't offered until the end of the book -- that's no accident.) In short, this novel is an homage to Jane Austen that is both respectful and self-depreciating, loving and mirthful, joyous and rueful. Much like Austen herself, whose spirit is evoked rather than dragged onto the table in this very enjoyable book.
Having presented the Jane Austen read and appreciated by each character, the narrator (who may be Jocelyn -- or could Ms. Austen herself be the silent, but observant, guest at the banquet?) closes with a series of quotations from Austen, each of which appears randomly in a fortune-telling ball, but is rejected if doesn't reflect the desires of the questioner. We end up with the quotation that the narrator prefers, but are left to wonder who has really had the last word, the reader, the narrator or Jane Austen. The answer is obviously: all three. The novel has no single meaning, and the reader no single interpretation; "The mere habit of learning to love is the thing." (Jane Austen , 1775-1817)