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It's always risky...
on February 27, 2009
...to read the novel before seeing the film adaptation. Because usually, the comparison does the movie no favours. However, as I've learned here, sometimes there's a greater risk to seeing the film first.
As much as this is meant to be a review of the novel, the truth is that having seen the film, my view of the book is informed in so very starkly a way that I fear I cannot offer up as objective opinion as I otherwise might have.
As a screenwriter/novelist, I'm always fascinated to see how the migration from one medium to the other is achieved, and to what extent it's successful. In the case of 'The Jane Austen Book Club', one thing was consistently apparent: the adaptation succeeded marvellously. In fact, in many ways, the film is a far more satisfying experience.
But allow me to clarify.
Firstly, I have no history, no relationship with Austen's novels. I've read not a one. So clearly, what Fowler waves through her story Austen-wise, was lost on me. Not that I couldn't appreciate that she was clearly a lover of Austen's works and had fashioned a tale as an homage to the writer. I'm sure that a fan of Austen's books would have added many a satisfaction-point onto their final score. But I suppose what struck me most in this sense was the fact that the movie seemed to do a far better job of utilizing the themes and characters than the novel does.
Secondly, while the film is focused, the novel is...well, a lot more of a riff. And perhaps this can be chalked up mostly to the narrator's voice. In the film, it's a typical 'third-person omniscient'. In the book- Well, I still can't figure out why Fowler decided to tell it in first-person omniscient...and then, never really declare that it's being told by Bernadette. In fact, I don't know why she chose to use the narrative voice she did, at all. It makes no sense...first-person cannot be omniscient when we're talking about the narrator having access to information they'd not have access to...and in the end, came off as contrived. In fact, to a certain extent, it ruined the book for me.
Finally, the film, while not utilizing much of the novel's narrative, uses what it does explore much better than the book. In fact, maybe this was what surprised me most, that the movie is much more cohesive, does a far better job at delving into characters...it makes more sense. These criticisms are usually made about the film, not the source material, hence my surprise.
The novel is lovely. A little scattered, a little idiosyncratic, but with some enchanting touches. (Having read the book, I can attest to the fact that the movie missed some opportunities...but the writer/director should be proud of what she accomplished.) I wouldn't glow about it the way some of the jacket blurbs did...but then I'm not an Austen-ite...and I'm not a woman.
I'd like to think that Jane would forgive me both.