The Jane Austen Book Club

( 65 )

Overview

In California’s central valley, five women and one man join to discuss Jane Austen’s novels. Over the six months they get together, marriages are tested, affairs begin,
unsuitable arrangements become suitable, and love happens. With her eye for the frailties of human behavior and her ear for the absurdities of social intercourse, Karen Joy Fowler has never been wittier nor her characters more appealing. The result is a delicious ...

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Overview

In California’s central valley, five women and one man join to discuss Jane Austen’s novels. Over the six months they get together, marriages are tested, affairs begin,
unsuitable arrangements become suitable, and love happens. With her eye for the frailties of human behavior and her ear for the absurdities of social intercourse, Karen Joy Fowler has never been wittier nor her characters more appealing. The result is a delicious dissection of modern relationships.

Dedicated Austenites will delight in unearthing the echoes of Austen that run through the novel, but most readers will simply enjoy the vision and voice that, despite two centuries of separation, unite two great writers of brilliant social comedy.

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Editorial Reviews

Patricia T. O'Conner
In her portrait of a California reading group, Karen Joy Fowler turns a mirror on the gawking, voyeuristic presence that lurks in every story: the reader. What results is Fowler's shrewdest, funniest fiction yet, a novel about how we engage with a novel. You don't have to be a student of Jane Austen to enjoy it, either. At the end are plot synopses of all six Austen novels for the benefit of the forgetful, the uninitiated or the nostalgic.
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
The Washington Post
It's just as hard to explain quite why The Jane Austen Book Club is so wonderful. But that it is wonderful will soon be widely recognized, indeed, a truth universally acknowledged. — Michael Dirda
Richard Eder
The thoughts are more than literary discussion. They bring out the characters and emotions of the participants along with the tensions and sympathies that flit and filter among them. Ms. Fowler has the genial notion to see in the book club — that newish American cultural phenomenon — a society resembling nothing so much as one of those sets of country gentry among which Austen constructed a social comedy where irony stiffens sentiment, and pain is a cool afterthought.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
With its many section breaks and point-of-view shifts, Fowler's newest book (following Sister Noon) poses significant challenges for a single narrator. But stage actress Schraf overcomes these obstacles with ease, her voice taking on just a touch of haughtiness for the chapters told from the "we" perspective and then switching back to an unassuming tone for the third-person sections. It may take listeners a short while to grasp the story's structure, but once they do, they'll be hopelessly snared by this witty look at the lives and loves of six people, all members of Central Valley, California's "all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club." As the members discuss Austen's stance on marriage, social status and love, the narrative meanders, touching on defining moments in the characters' lives and then drifting back to describe their current dilemmas: single, middle-aged Jocelyn has never been in love; French teacher Prudie can't stop thinking about men other than her husband; chatty Bernadette has decided to "let herself go"; warm-hearted Sylvia still loves her soon-to-be-ex-husband; emotional Allegra has left her girlfriend; and sci-fi aficionado Grigg is infatuated with someone who may not share his affection. Through subtle alterations of tone and inflection, Schraf neatly conveys the emotions and idiosyncrasies of each character, from Prudie's impossibly pretentious French asides to Bernadette's airy, endless storytelling. Playful and intelligent, this audiobook embodies the best of both the written and aural worlds. Simultaneous release with the Putnam hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 22). (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fowler's book, for all intents and purposes, is a character study of six people who meet regularly over several months to discuss six of Austen's works. Jocelyn, in her 50s and never married, is the originator of the club, a control freak who handpicked all the members; Sylvia, her good friend, is in a funk because her husband of 32 years has just left her for another woman; Sylvia's daughter, Allegra, is an attractive 30-year-old lesbian who recently broke up with her lover; Prudie is a twentysomething high school French teacher; the much-married Bernadette, 67, is now single; and Grigg, in his 40s, would love to get married. The group sits around drinking and making aimless, often pointless, conversation about Austen, and into these light, roundabout discussions Fowler intertwines some clever and funny stories. There is not much depth to the characters, the plots are weak, and little happens until the last chapter. Read by Kimberly Schraf, this atypical but deliberate novel is recommended for larger public libraries.-Carol Stern, Glen Cove P.L., NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The estimable Fowler (Sister Noon, 2001, etc.) offers a real delight as she follows the lives of six members of a book club. Not a moment passes without its interest as we meet Jocelyn (who raises Rhodesian Ridgebacks); her best friend since girlhood, Sylvia (nee Sanchez); Sylvia's daughter Allegra, an artist who's now 30 and a lesbian; high-school French teacher, Prudie, 28 and flighty; the talkative Bernadette, turning 67 and the oldest; and the only man, Grigg Harris, unmarried, in his 40s, new to the neighborhood-and a science-fiction buff who's never read Jane Austen. Month by month, the group meets at one house or another to discuss the agreed-upon book, and all the while Fowler keeps things moving with a fine and inventive dexterity, lingering in the present at one moment, dipping way back into the adolescent years of Jocelyn and Sylvia at another (Sylvia marries Jocelyn's boyfriend; Jocelyn remains single), sometimes touching on the life of Austen herself, then popping back to escort us through Grigg's plain but fascinating history (he had three sisters, no brother), or to let us in on what makes Prudie flighty, how many husbands Bernadette had, or what happened when Allegra jumped from an airplane. Much of the charm lies in the book discussions themselves-never dry, ever revealing, always on the psychological mark-and much indeed also lies in the many perfect Austen-esque moments, situations, misunderstandings, recognitions, and reversals that make up the web and woof of the novel. We learn early that after 30 years of perfect marriage Sylvia's husband has left her. That event, in one way or another, will touch on everyone, and before the end there'll be a positively lovelyre-sorting of relationships, places, and positions, all done in today's most perfect emulation of Jane that you could ever imagine. Bright, engaging, dexterous literary entertainment for everyone, though with many special treats and pleasures for Janeites.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452286535
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/26/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 365,037
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 8.09 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler, A PEN/Faulkner and Dublin IMPAC nominee, is the author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Sarah Canary, The Sweetheart Season, Wit's End, Black Glass: Short Fictions, and Sister Noon.

Biography

A genre such as science fiction, with its deeply committed fans and otherworldly subject matter, tends to stand apart from the rest of the book world. So when one writer manages to push the boundaries and achieve success with both sci-fi and mainstream fiction readers, it's a feat that signals she's worth paying attention to.

In terms of subject matter, Karen Joy Fowler is all over the map. Her first novel, 1991's Sarah Canary, is the story of the enigmatic title character, set in the Washington Territory in 1873. A Chinese railway worker's attempt to escort Sarah back to the insane asylum he believes she came from turns into more than he bargained for. Fowler weaves race and women's rights into the story, and it could be another historical novel -- except for a detail Fowler talks about in a 2004 interview. "I think for science fiction readers, it's pretty obvious that Sarah Canary is an alien," Fowler says. Yet other readers are dumbfounded by this news, seeing no sign of it. For her part, Fowler refuses to make a declaration either way.

Sarah Canary was followed in 1996 by The Sweetheart Season, a novel about a 1950s women's baseball league that earned comparisons to Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon works; and the 2001 novel Sister Noon, which Fowler called "a sort of secret history of San Francisco." For all three novels, critics lauded Fowler for her originality and compelling storytelling as she infused her books with elements of fantasy and well-researched history.

In 2004, Fowler released her first contemporary novel, The Jane Austen Book Club. It dealt with five women and one man reading six of Austen's novels over a six-month period, and earned still more praise for Fowler. The New York Times called the novel shrewd and funny; The Washington Post said, "It's... hard to explain quite why The Jane Austen Book Club is so wonderful. But that it is wonderful will soon be widely recognized, indeed, a truth universally acknowledged." Though Fowler clearly wrote the book with Austen fans in mind – she too loves the English author of classics such as Pride and Prejudice -- knowledge of Austen's works is not a prerequisite for enjoyment.

Readers who want to learn more about Fowler's sci-fi side should also seek out her short story collections. Black Glass (1999) is not a strictly sci-fi affair, but it is probably the most readily available; her Web site offers a useful bibliography of stories she has published in various collections and sci-fi journals, including the Nebula Award-winning "What I Didn't See."

Fowler also continues to be involved with science fiction as a co-founder of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, designed to honor "science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender." The award has spawned two anthologies, which Fowler has taken part in editing.

Whether or not Fowler moves further in the direction of mainstream contemporary fiction, she clearly has the flexibility and skill as a writer to retain fans no matter what. Her "category" as a writer may be fluid, but it doesn't seem to make a difference to readers who discover her unique, absorbing stories and get wrapped up in them.

Good To Know

In our interview, Fowler shared some fun facts about herself with us:

"The first thing I ever wanted to be was a dog breeder. Instead I've had a succession of eccentric pound rescues. My favorite was a Keeshond Shepherd mix, named Tamara Press after the Russian shot-putter. Tamara went through college with me, was there when I married, when I had children. She was like Nana in Peter Pan; we were a team. I'm too permissive to deal with spaniels or hounds, as it turns out. Not that I haven't had them, just that I lose the alpha advantage."

"I have cats, too. But I can't talk about them. They don't like it."

"I'm not afraid of spiders or snakes, at least not the California varieties. But I can't watch scary movies. That is, I can watch them, but I can't sleep after, so mostly I don't. Unless I'm tricked. I mention no names. You know who you are."

"I loved the television show The Night Stalker when it was on. Also The Greatest American Hero. And I Spy. And recently Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except for the final year."

"I do the crossword puzzle in the Nation every week. I don't like other crossword puzzles, only that one. It takes me two days on average."

"I take yoga classes. I eat sushi. I walk the dog. I spend way too much time on email. Mostly I read."

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    1. Hometown:
      Davis, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 7, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bloomington, Indiana
    1. Education:
      B.A., The University of California, Berkeley, 1972; M.A., The University of California, Davis, 1974

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

in which we gather
at Jocelyn's
to discuss
Emma

We sat in a circle on Jocelyn's screened porch at dusk, drinking cold sun tea, surrounded by the smell of her twelve acres of fresh-mowed California grass. There was a very pretty view. The sunset had been a spectacular dash of purple, and now the Berryessa mountains were shadowed in the west. Due south in the springtime, but not the summer, was a stream.

"Just listen to the frogs," Jocelyn said. We listened. Apparently, somewhere beneath the clamor of her kennel of barking dogs was a chorus of frogs.

She introduced us all to Grigg. He had brought the Gramercy edition of the complete novels, which suggested that Austen was merely a recent whim. We really could not approve of someone who showed up with an obviously new book, of someone who had the complete novels on his lap when only Emma was under discussion. Whenever he first spoke, whatever he said, one of us would have to put him in his place.

This person would not be Bernadette. Though she'd been the one to request girls only, she had the best heart in the world; we weren't surprised that she was making Grigg welcome. "It's so lovely to see a man taking an interest in Miss Austen," she told him. "Delightful to get the male perspective. We're so pleased that you're here." Bernadette never said anything once if it could be said three times. Sometimes this was annoying, but mostly it was restful. When she'd arrived, she seemed to have a large bat hanging over her ear. It was just a leaf, and Jocelyn removed it as they hugged.

Jocelyn had two portable heaters going, and the porch hummed cozily. There were Indian rugs and Spanish-tile floors of a red that might hide dog hair, depending on the breed. There were porcelain lamps in the shape of ginger jars, round and Oriental, and with none of the usual dust on the bulbs, because it was Jocelyn's house. The lamps were on timers. When it was sufficiently dark out, at the perfect moment, they would snap on all at once like a choir. This hadn't happened yet, but we were looking forward to it. Maybe someone would be saying something brilliant.

The only wall held a row of photographs-Jocelyn's dynasty of Ridgebacks, surrounded by their ribbons and pedigrees. Ridgebacks are a matriarchal breed; it's one of their many attractive features. Put Jocelyn in the alpha position and you have the makings of an advanced civilization.

Queenie of the Serengeti looked down on us, doe eyes and troubled, intelligent brow. It's hard to capture a dog's personality in a photograph; dogs suffer more from the flattening than people do, or cats even. Birds photograph well because their spirits are so guarded, and anyway, often the real subject is the tree. But this was a flattering likeness, and Jocelyn had taken it herself.

Beneath Queenie's picture, her daughter, Sunrise on the Sahara, lay, in the flesh, at our feet. She had only just settled, having spent the first half-hour moving from one of us to the next, puffing hot stagnant-pond smells into our faces, leaving hairs on our pants. She was Jocelyn's favorite, the only dog allowed inside, although she was not valuable, since she suffered from hyperthyroidism and had had to be spayed. It was a shame she wouldn't have puppies, Jocelyn said, for she had the sweetest disposition.

Jocelyn had recently spent more than two thousand dollars on vet bills for Sahara. We were glad to hear this; dog breeding, we'd heard, could make a person cruel and calculating. Jocelyn hoped to continue competing her, though the kennel would derive no benefit; it was just that Sahara missed it so. If her gait could be smoothed out-for Ridgebacks it was all about the gait-she could still show, even if she never won. (But Sahara knew when she'd lost; she became subdued and reflective. Sometimes someone was sleeping with the judge and there was nothing to be done about it.) Sahara's competitive category was Sexually Altered Bitch.

The barking outside ascended into hysteria. Sahara rose and walked stiffly to the screen door, her ridge bristling like a toothbrush.

"Why isn't Knightley more appealing?" Jocelyn began. "He has so many good qualities. Why don't I warm to him?"

We could hardly hear her; she had to repeat herself. The conditions were such, really, that we should have been discussing Jack London. . . .

Most of what we knew about Jocelyn came from Sylvia. Little Jocelyn Morgan and little Sylvia Sanchez had met at a Girl Scout camp when they were eleven years old, and they were fifty-something now. They'd both been in the Chippewa cabin, working on their wood-lore badges. They had to make campfires from teepees of kindling, and then cook over them, and then eat what they'd cooked; the requirement wasn't satisfied unless the Scout cleaned her plate. They had to identify leaves and birds and poisonous mushrooms. As if any one of them would ever eat a mushroom, poisonous or not.

For their final requirement they'd been taken in teams of four to a clearing ten minutes off and left to find their own way back. It wasn't hard, they'd been given a compass and a hint: The dining hall was southwest of them.

Camp lasted four weeks, and every Sunday Jocelyn's parents drove up from the city-three and a half hours-to bring her the Sunday funnies. "Everyone liked her anyway," Sylvia said. This was hard to believe, even for us, and we all liked Jocelyn a ton. "She was attractively ill informed."

Jocelyn's parents adored her so, they couldn't bear to see her unhappy. She'd never been told a story with a sad ending. She knew nothing about DDT or Nazis. She'd been kept out of school during the Cuban missile crisis because her parents didn't want her learning we had enemies.

"It fell to us Chippewas to tell her about communists," said Sylvia. "And child molesters. The Holocaust. Serial killers. Menstruation. Escaped lunatics with hooks for hands. The Bomb. What had happened to the real Chippewas.

"Of course, we didn't have any of it right. What a mash of misinformation we fed her. Still, it was realer than what she got at home. And she was very game, you had to admire her.

"It all came crashing down on the day we had to find our way back to camp. She had this paranoid fantasy that while we were hiking and checking our compass, they were packing up and moving out. That we would come upon the cabin and the dining hall and the latrines, but all the people would be gone. Even more, that there would be dust and spiderwebs and crumbling floorboards. It would be as if the camp had been abandoned for a hundred years. We might have told her too many Twilight Zone plots.

"But here's the weird part. On the last day, her parents came to pick her up, and on the drive back, they told her that they'd gotten divorced over the summer. In fact, she'd been sent off just for this purpose. All those Sunday drives together bringing the funnies, and they couldn't actually stand each other. Her dad was living in a hotel in San Francisco and had been the whole month she was gone. 'I eat all my meals in the hotel restaurant,' he told her. 'I just come down for breakfast and order whatever catches my fancy.' Jocelyn said he made it sound as though that were the only reason he'd moved out, because restaurant eating would be so swell. She felt she'd been traded for shirred eggs."

One day several years later he called her to say he had a touch of the flu. Nothing for her to worry her darling head about. They had tickets to a baseball game, but he didn't think he could make it, he'd have to take a rain check. Go, Giants! It turned out the flu was a heart attack. He didn't get to the hospital until he was already dead.

"No wonder she grew up a bit of a control freak," Sylvia said. With love. Jocelyn and Sylvia had been best friends for more than forty years. . . .

There's no heat with Mr. Knightley," Allegra said. She had a very expressive face, like Lillian Gish in a silent movie. She frowned when she was making a point, had done this since she was a tiny girl. "Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax meet in secret and quarrel with each other and make it up and lie to everyone they know. You believe they're in love because they behave so badly. You can imagine sex. You never feel that with Mr. Knightley." Allegra had a lullaby voice, low, yet penetrating. She was often impatient with us, but her tones were so soothing we usually realized it only afterward.

"That's true," Bernadette agreed. Behind the lenses of her tiny glasses her eyes were round as pebbles. "Emma is always saying how reserved Jane is, even Mr. Knightley says so, and he's so perceptive about everyone. But she's the only one in the whole book"-the lights came on, which made Bernadette jump, but she didn't miss a word for it-"who ever seems desperately in love. Austen says that Emma and Mr. Knightley make an unexceptional marriage." She paused reflectively. "Clearly she approves. I expect the word 'unexceptional' meant something different in Austen's day. Like, nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing to set tongues wagging. Neither reaching too high nor stooping too low."

Light poured like milk over the porch. Several large winged insects hurled themselves against the screens, frantic to find it, follow it to the source. This resulted in a series of thumps, some of them loud enough to make Sahara growl.

"No animal passion," said Allegra.

Sahara turned. Animal passion. She had seen things in the kennels. Things that would make your hair stand on end.

"No passion at all." Prudie repeated the word, but pronouncing it as if it were French. Pah-see-ohn. Because she taught French, this wasn't as thoroughly obnoxious as it might have been.

Not that we liked it. The month before, Prudie's beautician had removed most of her eyebrows; it gave her a look of steady surprise. We couldn't wait for this to go away. "Sans passion, amour n'est rien," Prudie said.

"Après moi, le deluge," Bernadette answered, just so Prudie's words wouldn't fall into a silence that might be mistaken for chilly. Bernadette was really too kind sometimes.

Nothing smelly outside. Sahara came away from the screen door. She leaned into Jocelyn, sighing. Then she circled three times, sank, and rested her chin on the gamy toe of Jocelyn's shoe. She was relaxed but alert. Nothing would get to Jocelyn that didn't go through Sahara first.

"If I may." Grigg cleared his throat, held up his hand. "One thing I notice about Emma is that there's a sense of menace." He counted off on his fingers. He wore no ring. "The violent Gypsies. The unexplained pilferings. Jane Fairfax's boat accident. All Mr. Woodhouse's worries. There's a sense of threat hovering on the edges. Casting its shadow."

Prudie spoke quickly and decisively. "But Austen's whole point is that none of those things is real. There is no real threat."

"I'm afraid you've missed the whole point," said Allegra.

Grigg said nothing further. His eyelashes dropped to his cheeks, making his expression hard to read. It fell to Jocelyn as hostess to change the subject.

"I read once that the Emma plot, the humbling of a pretty, self-satisfied girl, is the most popular plot of all time. I think it was Robertson Davies who said so. That this was the one story everyone was bound to enjoy."

. . .

When Jocelyn was fifteen, she met two boys while playing tennis at the country club. One of them was named Mike, the other Steven. They were, at first glance, average boys. Mike was taller and thinner, with a prominent Adam's apple and glasses that turned to headlights in the sun. Steven had better shoulders and a nice smile but a fat ass.

Mike's cousin Pauline was visiting from New York, and they introduced themselves to Jocelyn because they needed a fourth for doubles. Jocelyn had been working on her serve with the club pro. She wore her hair in a high ponytail that summer, with bangs like Sandra Dee in Take Her, She's Mine. She had breasts, pointy at first, but now rounding. Her mother had bought her a two-piece bathing suit with egg-cup shaping, in which Jocelyn was exquisitely self-conscious. But her best feature, she always believed, had been her serve. Her toss that day was perfect, taking her to full stretch, and she spun the ball into the service court. It seemed she couldn't miss. Her spirits, as a consequence, were high and wild.

Neither Mike nor Steven spoiled things by being particularly competitive. They split games sometimes, and sometimes they didn't; no one really kept score but Jocelyn, and she did so only privately. They traded partners. Pauline was such a little snot, accusing people of foot faults in a friendly game, that Jocelyn looked better and better by comparison. Mike said she was a good sport, and Steven said she wasn't a bit stuck-up, not like most girls.

They continued to meet and play after Pauline went back home, even though three was such an awkward number. Sometimes when they rallied, Mike or Steven would try to run from one side of the net to the other to play on both teams at once. It never worked and they never stopped trying. Eventually some adult would accuse them of not being serious and throw them off the court.

After tennis, they'd change into their swimsuits and meet at the pool. Everything about Jocelyn changed with her clothes. When she came out of the women's locker room, her movements were cramped and tight. She'd wrap a towel around her waist and remove it only to slip into the water.

Still, she liked when they stared; she felt the pleasure of it all over her skin. They came in after her, touching her under the water, where no one could see. One or the other would swim down to put his head between her legs and surface with her knees hooked around his shoulders, the water from her ponytail streaming into the cup over her breast. One day one of them, she never knew which, pulled the knot of her top loose. She caught it just as it began to drop. She could have stopped this with a word, but she didn't. She felt dangerous, brazen. She felt all lit up.

She had no desire for anything further. She didn't actually like Mike or Steven that much, and certainly not in that way. When she lay in her bed or the bath, touching herself more intimately and successfully than they did, the boy she pictured was Mike's older brother, Bryan. Bryan went to college and worked summers as a lifeguard at the pool. He looked the way a lifeguard looks. Mike and Steven called him the boss, he called them the squirts. He had never spoken to Jocelyn, possibly didn't even know her name. He had a girlfriend who rarely got wet, but lay on a beach chair reading Russian novels and drinking Coca-Cola. You could tell how many she'd drunk from the maraschino cherries lined up along her napkin.

In late July there was a dance, and it was girl-ask-boy. Jocelyn asked Mike and Steven both. She thought they knew this, assumed they would talk about it. They were best friends. She thought it would hurt someone's feelings if she asked one and not the other, and she didn't want to hurt anyone. She had a strapless sundress to wear; she and her mother went out and bought a strapless bra.

Mike showed up at her house first, in a white shirt and a sports jacket. He was nervous; they were both nervous; they needed Steven to arrive. But when he did, Mike was shocked. Hurt. Furious. "You two have a great time," he said. "I got other things to do."

Jocelyn's mother drove Jocelyn and Steven to the club and wouldn't be picking them up again until eleven o'clock. Three whole hours had to pass somehow. Glass torches lit the pathway to the clubhouse, and the landscape flickered. There were rose wreaths and pots of ivy animals. The air cool and soft, the moon sliding down the sky. Jocelyn didn't want to be with Steven. It felt like a date now, and she didn't want to date him. She was rude and miserable, wouldn't dance, hardly talked, wouldn't take off her cardigan. She was afraid he might get the wrong idea, so she was trying to clarify things. Eventually he asked some other girl to dance.

Jocelyn went out by the pool and sat in one of the lounge chairs. She knew that she'd been unforgivably mean to Steven, wished she'd never met him. She wasn't wearing stockings and her legs were cold. She could smell her own Wind Song perfume mixing with the chlorine.

Music floated over the pool. "Duke of Earl." "I Want to Hold Your Hand." "There is a house in New Orleans." Bryan sat down on the end of her chair, making her blood skip. Probably she was in love with him.

"Aren't you the thing?" he said. The only light around them came from under the water and was blue. He was turned away, so she didn't see his face, but his voice was full of contempt. "There's a word for girls like you."

Jocelyn hadn't known this, hadn't even known there were girls like her. Whatever the word was, he didn't say it.

"You had those boys in such a fever. Did you like that? I bet you liked it. Did you know they used to be best friends? They hate each other now."

She was so ashamed. She'd known all summer there was something wrong with the way she was behaving, but she hadn't known what it was. She had liked it. Now she understood that the liking it was the wrong part.

Bryan gripped one of her ankles hard enough so that the next morning she had a bruise where his thumb had been. He slid the other hand up her leg. "You asked for this," he said. "You know you did." His fingers grabbed at her panties, pushed them aside. She felt the slick surface of his nails. She didn't tell him not to. She was too ashamed to move. His finger found its way inside her. He shifted his weight until he lay over her. He was wearing the same bay aftershave her father had worn.

"Bryan?" His girlfriend's voice, over by the clubhouse. "True Love Ways" playing on the turntable-Jocelyn would never like Buddy Holly again, even though he was dead, poor guy-the girlfriend calling. "Bryan? Bryan!" Bryan slid his finger out, let go of her. He stood up, shaking his jacket into place and smoothing his hair. He put his finger into his mouth while she watched, took it out. "We'll catch up later," he told her.

Jocelyn walked down the watery path through the torches and out to the road. The country club was in the country, up a long hill. It took twenty minutes to drive there. The roads twisted and had no sidewalks and were surrounded by trees. Jocelyn started home.

She was wearing sandals with one-inch heels. She'd painted her toenails, and in the moonlight, her toes looked as if they'd been dipped in blood. Already there was a raw spot on the back of one heel. She was very frightened, because ever since camp she'd lived in a world with communists and rapists and serial killers. Whenever she heard a car coming, she stepped away from the road and crouched until it passed. The headlights were like searchlights. She pretended she was someone innocent, someone who hadn't asked for anything. She pretended she was a deer. She pretended she was a Chippewa. She pretended she was on the Trail of Tears, an event Sylvia had recounted in vivid if erroneous detail.

She thought she'd be home before her mother left to pick them up. All she had to do was go downhill. But in the beam of a passing car, suddenly she didn't recognize anything. At the bottom of the hill was a crossroads she never came to, and now she was going up, which she shouldn't be doing, even for a short time. There were no street signs, no houses. She kept going forward only because she was too ashamed to go back. Hours passed. Finally she found a small gas station, which was closed, and a pay phone, which was working. As she dialed she was sure her mother wouldn't answer. Her mother might be out, frantically looking for her. She might have packed all her clothes into the car while Jocelyn was at the dance, and moved away.

It was midnight. Her mother made a horrible to-do about it, but Jocelyn convinced her that she'd only wanted some fresh air, some exercise, the stars.

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Reading Group Guide

  1. The author opens the novel with a quote from Jane Austen, part of which reads, "Seldom, very seldom does complete truth belong to any human disclosure." Do you agree with this sentiment? Why do you think the author chooses to open the novel with this quote? How might this statement apply to each of the characters in the book?
  2. When the group is first being formed, Bernadette suggests that it should consist exclusively of women: "The dynamic changes with men. They pontificate rather than communicate. They talk more than their share. ' (page 3). What do you think of her statement? How does Grigg affect the group’s dynamic? How would things have been different without him?
  3. While the group is reading Sense and Sensibility and discussing Mrs. Dashwood, Sylvia mentions that "the problems of older women don’t interest most writers" (page 46) and is thrilled that Austen seems to care. Do you agree with this, that most writers aren’t interested in older women? What about society in general? How does Fowler approach older women? Later, Prudie says that "An older man can still fall in love. An older woman better not." (page 47) Do you agree? How does Fowler deal with this issue?
  4. On page 228 Sylvia asks, "Why should unhappiness be so much more powerful than happiness?" How would you answer her? How does each character find her/his own happiness in the novel?
  5. The book club meets from March through August. How does the group change over these six months? "I always like to know how a story ends," Bernadette says on page 199. How do you think this story ends (the "epilogue to the epilogue")? Does Bernadette have a happy marriage with Senor Obando? Do Allegra and Corinne stay together? How about Jocelyn and Grigg? Daniel and Sylvia?
  6. At the end of the novel, Jocelyn reluctantly agrees to read some science fiction, including the work of Ursula Le Guin, and really likes it. What other authors do you think the group might like? Although they would have to change the name of their group, what author would you suggest for the Central Valley/River City all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club to read next? What do you suggest for your own group?
  7. If you’re new to Jane Austen, are you now interested in reading her work? Based on what you’ve learned from Karen Jay Fowler, which novel would you go to first? If you are already a "dedicated Janeite," how has reading The Jane Austen Book Club made you feel about your favorite author? How would you describe your own "private Austen"? What novel would you recommend to first-time readers of Austen?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 65 )
Rating Distribution

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(7)

4 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 65 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Learning to Love

    Although THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB was a light, easy read; unfortunately, that meant it didn't have much depth to it. The characters and their stories weren't as fleshed out as I would have hoped. I got to know and appreciate some of the characters more than others, but -- for example -- was exhausted [YAWN] reading Prudie's story in Chapter 3. I think there was too much history/background provided for each character. They supposedly "learned to love" thanks to Austen's books, but their limited time in the present didn't allow me to feel much personal interaction between the central characters as I should have. When something happened to them, I couldn't emote. "Austen can plot like a son of a b*tch!" Too bad Folwer can't.

    Fowler does have a way with words and provide some memorable quotes throughout her novel, though, I'll give her that. She sets up concepts that make you think...

    "...all parents wanted an impossible life for their children -- happy beginning, happy middle, happy ending. No plot of any kind. What uninteresting people would result if parents got their way."
    "Happiness in marriage is mostly a matter of chance."

    ...and sometimes laugh...

    "[He] had too much hair and not enough neck."
    "A charming, unattached man was too valuable to throw away just because you had no immediate use for him."

    Having somehow never read Jane Austen throughout my years of English classes, I got a bit distracted when Fowler's characters started talking about Austen's characters during one of their book club sessions. Fortunately (although too late), I discovered that at the back of the book there were summaries (mini CliffNotes, if you will) for each of Austen's books. I wish I had known this prior to finishing the book, as it would have helped a bit to feel like I, too, was in the discussion more during the book club sessions. I'm not saying that you need to have read Austen's books before reading JABC, but it certainly would help to be familiar with Austen's storylines and characters, as well as have an appreciation for Austen's literary style and who she was as a person. "Austen was no occasion for displays of ego."

    All in all, I think Fowler does have potential as a writer because she can write dialogue "like a son of a b*tch," but she needs to develop her characters and their interactions much more to give us a reason to care about them.

    "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig [Jane Austen] up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone." - Mark Twain

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2007

    Misleading title for a disappointing and disgusting book

    Because the writer chose to include Jane Austen's name in the title of this not only disappoingting, but thoroughly disgusting book, I believe future readers should be made aware of the content of this novel because critics and sellers reviews are totally misleading. I recently purchased two copies of this from my book club, one was to have been a birthday gift for a young lady who has just gotten acquainted with Jane Austen's writing and has begun devouring her marvellous books. I waded part way through my copy (thankfully, before I gave away the birthday gift copy) and was apalled at the blatant and disgusting sexual content. I returned both copies to my book club at once with my scathing review and reasons for return. It is clear from the the title alone, that the author set out to prey upon the lovers of the works of Jane Austen in an attempt to cash-in on this very lucrative market. Unsuspecting readers beware!

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2004

    Fowler re-energizes Austen fans

    Nashville City Paper Bookclub 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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2008

    MOVIE WAS SO MUTCH BETTER

    I DID BUT I DIDN'T LIKED IT . THE MOVIE SEEMED TO FLESH OUT THE CHARACTORS AND PLOT BETTER. I WOULD HAVE TO AGREE WITH ONE OF THE OTHER REVIEWERS THAT IT WAS A SLOW PACED. IT TOOK ME LONGER TO READ THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2010

    Read the Book and Then See the Movie

    I watched the movie and then read the book to explain some parts in the movie. Both the book and the movie are good entertainment. I would recommend the book before the movie!

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  • Posted June 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Jane Austen Lovers Rejoice!

    I heard that this book has actually become a movie recently. All I know, is that it is a beautiful celebration of both authors and readers. What better to demonstrate both than a book club! Each of the characters is wonderfully cast as one of Jane Austen's faithful creations. This book leaves you wondering where you fit in within the Jane Austen realm.

    A must read for any Jane Austen lover!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2009

    Not that great...

    I thought the whole concept of this book sounded interesting so I decided to give it a shot. It wasn't bad...but it wasn't great either. All in all there was no plot, no story line to follow. It just briefly described the lives of the members of the book club. At times it was hard to follow which character was narrating. I honestly wouldn't recommend this book, it could have been so much better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2008

    Don't read unless you want to be bored to death. . .

    Did not and will not finish this book, very disappointed as I am a huge Jane Austen fan and had hoped to see how the author might be able to tie it all together. I was not able to connect with any of the characters and failed to see the point of the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2008

    For once the movie was better!

    Really slow and not a great plot. The movie however was great!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2008

    A big zero

    My book club read this book and it was universally disliked. It was more like snippets of information rather than a story that developed into anything even remotely interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2008

    Excellent nod to Jane's fiction

    Amiable 'update' of many scene's of Miss Austen's work to our contemporary American culture. After having read her fiction so many times, this work gave me many chuckles.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2008

    Lacked a lot.......

    I was very disappointed by the Jane Austen Book Club. I am a fan of Jane myself and was looking forward to the book and movie. The book was a very slow read because it lacked a lot of plot. There was no climax and no end result. The book just started and then stopped. I am usually a fast and avid reader but it took me almost 2 months to read this short book. I never saw the movie but I will rent it when it comes out. I imagine the movie will be better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2007

    Problematic

    Jane Austens Book Club makes a sincer attempt. However I found this book was really slow and at times unreadable. Other times I found it quite enjoyable. The sexual content wasn't as profound as I was lead to believe by other reviews. I think the concept of the story is very good but the end product at times seemed a little sloppy.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    well written complex character study

    Six people with a ¿private Austen¿ philosophy decide to form the ¿all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club'. Jocelyn¿s private Jane is love without marriage Bernadette felt Austen was a comedic genius Sylvia¿s private though is she is everyone¿s favorite single female relative Grigg the lone male member seeks the masculinity of Jane Allegra¿s Austen wants financial female independence Prudie desires solace in reinterpretation and early death. --- Over the months this sextet discussed Austenian views on the requirements by society to marry whether love entered the relationship or not and other societal demands on individuals to conform. However, these discussions serve as back drop to the emotional uproars in each of their lives. Jocelyn has never tasted love and fears she never will Prudie desires untouchable males, but wants never to have a fantasy thought about her spouse Bernadette in her sixties figures she can do anything so no longer uses a mirror to look perfect Sylvia is heartbroken as she loves her spouse even as they divorce Allegra and her girlfriend split Grigg understands first hand unrequited love. --- This well written complex character study is not an easy book to read as the story line focuses on the modern issues of six people rotating perspective. There is a somewhat nebulous link to Jane Austen via the ¿private¿ Austen inside of each of the sextet¿s psyche, but that is secondary to the issues each confronts. Fans of contemporary character driven fiction will enjoy this fine tale once the nuance of the methodology employed by Karen Joy Fowler is grasped this reviewer came close initially to quit reading, but fortunately (for my sake) continued into the second pass and became hooked. --- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2007

    A reviewer

    I really liked this book. It is not so much about Jane Austen as it is about the characters evolving while being in the book club. It is easy to read so it would be a good summer book. I found the characters to be likeable. It did make me want to read some of Jane Austen's books though.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2007

    A reviewer

    I was nauseated by this book. Fowler's love of crassness is most vividly realized in this pitiful excuse of a book! If you have to write junk, get to it, but don't besmirch such a wonderful author as Jane Austen.She never displayed such uncalled for crap in her exceptinal works, and yet this 'book' has her name in the title. Please don't waste your time and more importantly don't pollute your mind with this

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2007

    Book Club Review

    Our book club loved reading this book. It has a bit of an Austen feeling but the focus was on the characters and their love of Austen. We found ourselves laughing, crying and feeling for the characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2006

    not worthy of the title

    There should be a rule requiring permission to use Ms. Austen's name. This book disgusted me so much that I could not get through half of it. If you love Ms. Austen, do not even attempt to lay your eyes on this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2007

    My good opinion once lost is lost forever

    After reading Rebecca's review, I doubted whether my opinion could contribute valuable new insights. Rarely have I been so thoroughly disappointed by a book that seemed so promising on the outset. Jane Austen is worthy of many a book club with amateur or expert discussions. As much as she is a joy to read, she is a treasure to discuss amongst Austen adepts. Why then does Joy Fowler do so poorly? Her characters are developed weakly, the omniscient narrator has rarely been imposed so uselessly and none of Austen's wit or irony pervades the book. I was waiting to be taken in by at least one of the protagonists, hoping that they would induce the warmth and intimacy that characterizes many a good novel. I was disappointed up to the very end. None of the characters sparkle, not even Jocelyn who has so much potential to become an enchanting heroine. Surely a novel called `The Jane Austen book club¿ that is acclaimed so highly by many a decent newspaper should live up to at least mediocre standards? I cannot believe an intelligent and inspired writer such as Alice Sebold has conspired against thousands of readers by claiming `If I could eat this novel, I would¿. Even a glass of water is more tasty than this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2006

    Sounded better than it was

    I was really looking forward to reading this particular novel, being a huge Austen fan. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. It didn't seem to go anywhere and at the end of the novel I felt as if I had missed something big. The author had a great idea and decent characters but I don't feel that the characters or plot were allowed to develop completely. It will never be a favorite and I cannot imagine recommending it to my friends.

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