November 13, 2012 by Vicki
When I first started reading The Jane Austen Book Club, I hated it. I found the pace of the novel very disjointed. I also found the combination of Jane Austen’s stories and the novel’s story off-putting. However, I also could not stop thinking about that story. I kept wondering about the array of characters and how they interacted with each other. Consequently, I kept reading and learning more about each of the characters. By the time I finished the novel, I absolutely loved it.
I will confess that I watched the movie before I read the book, which is always a mistake. The movie assumed a large license when translating the book. I assumed that certain events would occur because I had watched the movie. When the events did not occur, I felt off-balance. I could enjoy reading the story once I realized that it had nothing in common with the movie. As a general note, I advise avoiding watching a movie if you desire to read the book.
At first, I also found it difficult to understand the group dynamics within The Jane Austen Book Club. Karen Fowler does a fantastic job of giving the reader the bare minimum description of the various characters. Each person you meet in the story seems wildly different from the others. We learn that Bernadette is the eldest of the group and has decided to let herself go and not worry about appearances. Sylvia is going through a divorce and has known Jocelyn since they were twelve. Jocelyn has a long history of setting up other people. During the first meeting, we don’t know anything about Griggs except that he has very long lashes. From this basic knowledge, Karen Fowler then develops our understanding through their interactions. At the beginning of the novel, I felt like I had just met these individuals. By the end of the novel, they had become my best friends who I had know forever. Usually novels give you a full character description within the first few chapters. With The Jane Austen Book Club, the reader meets the characters and learns their history and personality in a more natural way.
One of these new best friends I did not even have the privilege of meeting in the novel. The character of Jane Austen permeates the entire book. Each character’s understanding of her, however, is completely different. Only her novels and the history of Jane Austen remain the same. This discrepancy shows us how we actually learn about other people and form opinions about them. We focus on the elements of a personality that we can identify with and then form our opinions from there. I can’t help wondering what that says about our understanding of each other and our own histories. How do different people see us? Where does the truth exist?
I picked the Jane Austen Book Club because I wanted to examine reading about reading. Each character has a different experience of the various books and shares that experience with the group. Their different experiences show us that each reader’s understanding of The Jane Austen Book Club will also be different. Some of us will adore Bernadette and her many husbands, while others will find her tedious and long-winded. Griggs involvement in the book club may strike some as intrusive, while others will love his honesty and his sisters. Reading about reading forces us to realize these differences and thus be more aware of our own biases. At least, that’s my opinion. What do you think happens when reading about reading? Are you made more aware? Who was your favourite character and why?