It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Jane Austen fan in possession of some moments of leisure must be in want of a good book. And the book industry has obliged us. We have been offered Bridget Jones's Diary and Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Fields, both modern retellings but still clearly based on Austen's Pride and Prejudice. An Assembly Such As This, part of a trilogy, retells P & amp;P from inside the privileged world of Fitzwilliam Darcy. And for those of us not satisfied with where Austen ended her stories (before the nuptials) there are books like Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, and Excessively Diverted, which continue the beloved stories.
Yet one more recent addition to the growing piles of Austen-alia is The Jane Austen Book Club. This novel has Jocelyn, a fifty-something single woman who breeds Rhodesian ridgebacks, setting up a book club just to read Austen's novels. Part of her motivation is her belief that it is "essential to reintroduce Austen into your life regularly. Let her look around." She is also trying to divert her best friend Sylvia after 30 years of marriage end in a painful divorce. Also in the book are Sylvia's lesbian daughter Allegra, a French teacher named Prudie, an aging eccentric named Bernadette and, to everyone's amazement, an eligible man in his 40s named Grigg.
They meet every month and discuss an Austen novel -- and we become a little closer to the lives of the club members. We also understand a little more about what Fowler calls everyone's "private Austen," the part of Jane Austen's work that they most identify with: her wit, her social commentary, her romantic sensibilities.
It would have been tempting for Fowler to remake her characters in the images of Austen's. She resists this temptation, however, opting instead to give characters fleeting moments of behaving or speaking as a specific Austen "type" - here recognizably Emma, there suddenly Lizzie Bennett.
For readers unfamiliar with Austen, this book could be a trial. The references to characters and situations in Austen's work might become tedious for someone without that background. For fans, however, The Jane Austen Book Club will be excessively diverting -- a good fix while waiting for an acceptable period of time to pass before reading your own private Austen for the umpteenth time.
Publication date: 08/26/04