Don't let the title fool you; this isn't really
a book about Jane Austen. In fact, Jane Austen and her novels only serve as the structural frame for this story; the outlining that allows the characters to meet, to interact - and the glue that binds the plot together. The core of this novel is really just the six book club members, their separate lives and their joined meetings. This is a story of widely different people, their outlook on life, their actions and their interactions.
As the story unfolds small tragedies and bitter regrets are revealed, heartfelt longing and burning wishes are explained, and each book club meeting offers a delicate glimpse into one of the six main character's crowded minds. Secrets that never have been told and feelings that never have been said out loud shape each character and the way they relate. Fowler seems to be showing how the past influences the present.
"Each of us has a private Austen.
The six main characters enter the book club with different views and individual perceptions of Austen. They each experience her novels differently and they hardly ever agree on anything. Every reader reads something of themselves into the novels; and there is a beautiful connection between each character's lifestyle and their opinion of the books. Fowler is actually making a lovely point; that we ourselves define our reading experiences - and that no book is ever read the same way twice. But "The Jane Austen Book Club" also testifies how a mutual love for reading can bring people together and create long-lasting bonds of friendship and love.
"“You've done so many things and read so many books. Do you still believe in happy endings?"
"Oh my Lord, yes." Bernadette's hands were pressed against each other like a book, like a prayer. "I guess I would. I've had about a hundred of them.”
Can a book be friendly? If so, that is how I would describe this book. Reading it felt so incredibly comfortable - it is extremely funny, heartwarming and above all: cozy. The perfect book for a rainy day or a distressed exam period. A rare kind of light entertainment.
While Jane Austen is not the main focus of the novel, it is still interesting to follow each discussion of her novels; to hear the appreciation for her writing and see the way it can affect people. As the plot develops the book club discussions fade to the background - but several hints of Austen's storytelling are still to be found in the six plotlines.
"The Jane Austen Book Club" is really a tribute to readers of all books and genres; it is a delightful tale of how big an impact a book can have on you, and how a love for reading can be shared.