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5.0 out of 5 stars "We" is "I"
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...
Published on July 10 2004 by rctnyc

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Only for Austen fans
I'm an easy touch for a book club book, being an avid member of two groups, but reading this book is a little like showing up for the meeting unprepared--if you haven't read Austen recently, it's slow going. The book club here is a quirky, diverse group who don't seem to have a lot in common other than a love of Austen, which seems an unlikely interest for some of them...
Published on June 29 2004 by J. Marren


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2.0 out of 5 stars The Jane Austen WASP club, July 18 2004
By 
Virginia C. (Lake Charles, LA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
I've had some extra time this summer to catch up on some reading. I've even been able to explore some of the newer books that are out and with all the reviews I've read here and the ads that are blarin all over the place, surely, I thought this would be a good one. Maybe I'm not exactly up on Austen--I realize this could be the problem--but the story and its characters didn't fulfill. I liked "The Secret Life of Bees" (and that is a bit corny) better only because, at least, the writer aimed to entertain and to give us a story and a bit of the "brown suger". Sorry, but this book pales (pun not intended) next to "Simon Lazarus". It's a totally different book from this, true, but readers will be delighted, fulfilled, and yes, perhaps, enlightened. Now THAT book's a winner. And deserves so much more praise than this--I'm sorry. And as far as that WASP, Alice Sebold--she can eat this all she wants--honey, I read that very WHITE chick's book and after the first 125 pages (which were actually good!)--it was all downhill in a Presbyterian handbasket!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable for Austen Fans but..., July 13 2004
By 
crazyforgems (Wellesley, MA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
I have to admit: I enjoyed this book tremendously and I went back and reread favorite sections. However, I am a Jane Austen devotee and I am always interested in the opinion of others on her various books.
And you get a number of opinions in "The Jane Austen Book Club." Six Californians get together to read all six Austen novels. With five women and one semi-hunky man, complications are bound to ensue. And they do...though not necessarily in the way the reader might think originally. The six characters are all interesting and their stories are told in part. In many ways, it reminded me of being in a book club: you see one side of an individual, and not necessarily the side that the rest of the world sees.
I would recommend this book to Jane Austen fans. Fowler inserts all sorts of opinions on various texts. My favorite moment occurs when Fowler's book club members debate the sexuality of one of Austen's characters and wonder if Austen realized that she had created a gay character!
However, if you are not a Jane Austen fan or have not read much of her work, I believe that this would be a tough read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "We" is "I", July 10 2004
By 
rctnyc (NY, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
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)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious...but there is something funnier in these reviews, July 2 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
I enjoyed the book and tore through it effortlessly in several days, laughing constantly. It is deceptively light; it is beautifully observed and witty and oblique. I found it frequently hilarious, but what is even more amusing is the offended tone of Jane Austenites, learning that their Jane could have been associated with such an unworthy effort! To think of Ms Fowler ascending to such bestselling heights on the feathery plumage of Miss Austen--scandalous! Why, it's enough to put one in mind of Mr. Bradbury's vehement opposition to the echoing of his science fiction book title, in that topical movie they're all fussing about these days. Nothing timeless there, you can be sure. And this will certainly never last the ages, like the works of the wonderful Jane. Or do I mean, unlike? Oh, I'm all of a dither. Save your money and use it to buy more actual Jane Austen novels, so that other writers might be encouraged to seek posthumous fame. For shame, Miz. Fowler! You have put your foot square into the middle of the storm! You shall be made to pay! Science fiction indeed!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Only for Austen fans, June 29 2004
By 
J. Marren "jtm497" (Glen Ridge, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
I'm an easy touch for a book club book, being an avid member of two groups, but reading this book is a little like showing up for the meeting unprepared--if you haven't read Austen recently, it's slow going. The book club here is a quirky, diverse group who don't seem to have a lot in common other than a love of Austen, which seems an unlikely interest for some of them. No surprise, the Austen discussions provide the vehicle for a slow revelation of the characters' lives. At the end, the narrator muses how they all began the year as single unattached people, and at the end all were working on a relationship of one sort or another. I'm sure there are lots of singles out there who would love to find a club that promised such results!
A much better example of the "book club book" is "Reading Lolita in Teheran." It suffers from the same problem if you aren't familiar with the books being discussed, but the lives of the characters are far more interesting. And it's a true story. Try that one instead.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unique premise and great follow-through, June 27 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
If you've ever been in any type of book club for an extended period of time, you'll want to read this very interesting novel. Anyone who has experience the "almost therapy-like" situation that a group coming together once a week (or whatever time period) has will appreciate this story. After a while, the idiosyncrasies and eccentric personalities start to emerge (and I'm talking about the group---NOT the characters in the books they pick) and things really get interesting. The books become a medium for what's really going on in everyone's life, and the author of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB has captured this perfectly. Why no one has written a book with this premise before is beyond me, but now there's one and it's great! And what better author to discuss while the skeletons are rattling in the closet than Jane Austen-with all her trials and tribulations set in a far-off, exotic land. Karen Joy Fowler has hit the nail on the head with this one.
Also recommended: McCrae's BARK OF THE DOGWOOD-A Tour of Southern homes and gardens.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Each of us has a private Austen.", June 19 2004
By 
G. Merritt - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
It is hard for me to say why I enjoyed reading this book so much. It has no real plot to summarize, and it is somewhat predictable in its happy endings. Fowler's novel is about a California book club consisting of five women (Jocelyn, Bernadette, Sylvia, Allegra, and Prudie) and one man (Grigg), which meets on a monthly basis to discuss the novels of Jane Austen (EMMA, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, PERSUASION). During their discussions, each member of the Jane Austen Book Club reveals their own "private Austen" (i.e., confusion about love) to the others. We learn that Sylvia is suffering through the breakup of her 32-year marriage to her husband, Daniel. Adventurous Allegra (Sylvia and Daniel's lesbian daughter), is no longer talking with her partner. Jocelyn is a single, controlling, dog breeder. Prudie, though married, fantasizes about having sex with other men. In her sixties, Bernadette has apparently given up on much in her life. Middle-aged Grigg, still single, leaves the others wondering if perhaps he is gay. Austen not only proves to be the ultimate matchmaker in her own novels, but in Fowler's as well. "The mere habit of learning to love is the thing," Austen wrote, and it is also the real story in Fowler's novel.
Reading Fowler requires some sophistication on the part of her reader to connect the dots in her storyline, which is one reason I liked this book so much. With a careful eye for home furnishings, appetizers, and wine, and through the club's literary discussions, Fowler demonstrates her Austen-like insights into her characters and their ordinary relationships. While a basic familiarity with Austen's novels is not a prerequisite for enjoying this novel, it would definitely lend itself to greater delights in reading Fowler's book. That is, readers (like me) who like Jane Austen will most likely enjoy this book.

G. Merritt
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fowler re-energizes Austen fans, June 18 2004
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
Nashville City Paper Book Club Column June 10, 2004
Saralee says
Jane Austen sells more than just about any other author today, dead or alive. What is it about an author who was first published in 1803 that makes her so relevant today? Austen wrote more than six books and every time I re-read one I wish she were still writing today. With The Jane Austen Book Club (Putnam), Karen Joy Fowler, who was a PEN/Faulkner award finalist for her book Sister Noon, has written a great story that should satisfy even the most finicky Janeite.
Five women and one man form the Jane Austen book club. There is the boss, Jocelyn, who is single and raises Rhodesian Ridgebacks; her best friend Sylvia whose husband of 30 years has just left her; Allegra who is gay and Sylvia's daughter; Prudie the high school French teacher; Bernadette the oldest and perhaps the most adventuresome who has had numerous husbands; and Grigg, the only male, a science fiction fan who intrigues and frustrates the club when he compares Austen to Ursula LeGuin.
When the club discusses Emma we learn all about Jocelyn. Sense and Sensibility provides us with Allegra's story, Mansfield Park covers Prudie's story, Northanger Abbey is about Grigg, Pride and Prejudice concerns Bernadette, and we conclude with Persuasion and Sylvia.
What is your favorite Austen book and why? I loved Fowler's Reader's Guide at the end of the book. There is a summary of the six Austen novels covered in this book and "The Response" which includes comments from the critics and friends of Austen during her life.
Who was your favorite character in Fowler's book? Did you like the way she matched her characters to one of Austen's novels? I especially enjoyed the characters' discussion of the book Persuasion and the very dignified way Sylvia conducted her life. The conclusion was very appropriate and satisfying to a Janeite like me. Not since The Secret Life of Bees (Penguin) has a book been so compatible for book club discussion.
Larry's Language
I did not pick this book. It was obviously my beautiful wife's choice because it is a clear example of chick lit, fiction focused on women, romance, personal feelings, social standing and all those things that Jane Austen wrote 200 years ago. Not much, except the names of the guilty parties, has changed.
Fowler's book club in The Jane Austen Book Club is composed of five women and one poor man whose role clearly is to be manipulated first by his sisters and then by these smarter, sharper, neater and more stylish women. By the end of the book he has learned his proper place in life and literature, just like the men in Austen's books. How can the smarter gender like my wife keep reading and rereading these same stories? Surely they figured out the social graces, the class structure, and the true meaning of life the first time or two. Or maybe the Austen fans are frustrated because the men in their real lives are not properly trained so they live out their fantasies in the world that Austen created.
If you think I am exaggerating about this somewhat engaging book that is a cross between a novel and a social commentary, just read these statements by Fowler: "I think we should be all women ... the dynamic changes with men. They pontificate rather than communicate. They talk more than their share." I ask you, who knew they were counting the words? Then Fowler writes, "Besides, men don't do book clubs ... . They see reading as a solitary pleasure." Obviously, in some social circles, there can only be one proper way to read a book. Fowler should attend my men's book club where we not only pontificate but view it as a great opportunity for food, gossip and politics.
Actually I enjoyed this book because it was provocative and stimulating. Following Fowler's advice, happy endings are the important thing and she provides Austen type resolutions for most of her book club members.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Clever AND Contrived (spoiler), June 17 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
A typical "Janeite", I was really looking forward to reading this novel. I had mixed reactions. Firstly, when I realized that each of the members of the club was meant to be a 21st century counterpart to an Austen hero, I thought it was unimaginative and contrived. Let's see what Emma might look like today. Ho hum. However, I was very impressed by the author's thoughtfulness and insight into the Austen characters whom her characters were patterned after. One of the things I've always loved about Austen was her ability to make well rounded characters. Her heroes have real flaws, and her villains are not usually without some positive attributes. I've always thought that Fanny Price, though the undoubted hero of Mansfield Park, not exactly the sort of person you want to hang out with. Likewise, Marianne Dashwood could be rather trying to those around her. Fowler captures such complexities in her depictions of the modern versions of Austen characters in her book. It was a good read once, but I doubt I'll read it again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars If you've ever . . ., June 9 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Jane Austen Book Club (Hardcover)
If you've ever been in any type of book club for an extended period of time, you'll want to read this very interesting novel. Anyone who has experience the "almost therapy-like" situation that a group coming together once a week (or whatever time period) has will appreciate this story. After a while, the idiosyncrasies and eccentric personalities start to emerge (and I'm talking about the group---NOT the characters in the books they pick) and things really get interesting. The books become a medium for what's really going on in everyone's life, and the author of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB has captured this perfectly. Why no one has written a book with this premise before is beyond me, but now there's one and it's great! And what better author to discuss while the skeletons are rattling in the closet than Jane Austen-with all her trials and tribulations set in a far-off, exotic land. Karen Joy Fowler has hit the nail on the head with this one.
Also recommended: McCrae's BARK OF THE DOGWOOD-A Tour of Southern homes and gardens.
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