I have finished the first book in my Jane Austen Project and two of the challenges in which I’m participating. As promised, I’m going to review both the book and movie The Jane Austen Book Club. To really be fair, however, I’m really doing more of a comparison, so I’ll separate the book & movie and then bring them together at the end in a final statement or two. So here we go…
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
I think Fowler’s intent with this book was to write an entertaining fiction that uses Jane Austen as its influence in that the characters each have their “own” Austen. Each character’s Austen becomes evident in the book club discussions that each hosts, which is actually how the book is broken up–each month’s discussion is the book’s chapter, so the “chapters” end up being roughly 30 to 50 pages long. In my opinion, this is a mistake on Fowler’s part if she was attempting to aim to please the typical reader, who likes to read average chapters one or a few at a time and then take a break. However, I surprisingly enjoyed the way the book was formatted on this part. Actually, let me explain it a little better…I liked the fact that the book’s sections dealt with each discussion. I didn’t, however, like that we are given so much background information on each character during the sections. In Bernadette’s section, which is aptly titled “Chapter Five in which we read Pride & Prejudice and listen to Bernadette,” there is entirely too much information given about Bernadette, her former husbands, and even childhood. The other chapters that contain characters’ background information give just enough to help us understand the character. But the placement of the information comes randomly throughout the discussions of the books, similar to what a flashback would be in a movie. At times, this proved to be confusing while reading since I was trying to read for pleasure and not necessarily for “thinking” if you know what I mean. We did need the background information since what the book is really about is how each character’s Austen played a part in each of their lives, but it could have been placed in a better way. I did enjoy the ending of the book where the club meets for the last meeting and then the true ending where they meet for the last time. It was good, and I do wish they had included pieces of it, such as the Ask Austen ball (I’ll let you figure that one out), in the movie. Another redeeming quality of the book is that included after the text of the novel is a “reader’s guide” containing sections with a synopsis of each of Austen’s books discussed, responses from Austen and her family & other authors on her novels, and then questions for discussion that come from the characters in the book club. Overall, I am going to give the novel a “C.” I liked it but didn’t love it, and I would recommend it for anyone who just can’t get enough of Austen. On to the movie review!
The Jane Austen Book Club the movie
Thinking back, I don’t really even remember this movie being advertised. In fact, I’d never even heard of it until I happened to flip the channel to Lifetime. The station was showing the “television premiere” of the movie, and I caught it in the middle of the movie. Rarely do I continue to watch a movie I’ve never seen if I’m only getting to it as it is in the middle, but this one caught my attention. It wasn’t too far into it, so I watched it and actually really liked it. So much in fact that I TiVo-ed it the next time it was on. My husband sat down and watched it, too, and we both would tell you that it (along with You’ve Got Mail & Letters to Juliet) is one of the few “chick flicks” that we both like. In fact, he even bought me the movie, and we have both watched it several times since then. Back to my review…
The movie, The Jane Austen Book Club, is MUCH more enjoyable than the book. I mentioned before on the background information and its placement in the book. During the movie, we are given small snip-its of information on the characters, how they relate to each other, and how the book club came into existence, but these are all worked very well into the plot of the movie. The movie, surprisingly, was very close to the book with the exception of a few things that obviously work better in movies (such as characters breaking up, getting together, and things of the like). I especially like how Prudie was portrayed in the movie much better than in the book. I will say that she is not my favorite character, but her story in the movie makes for a better character than in the book. Her marital woes with her jock husband Dean (I can relate to this one since my own husband was a football player and is hooked on ESPN, but at least he is much more receptive to the feminine aspects of life than Dean is), her dislike of her mother’s hippie antics, and her almost affair with a student make her an interesting character. The marital discourse and the mother issues definitely make her a real character as well. I also enjoyed how Bernadette seemed to be an Austen in her own right in the movie. She seemed to be the one who could answer the question, “What would Jane do?” with a look or a statement. She subtly helps each character in her own way. I give the movie an A.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club movie much more than the book, and that is saying quite a bit since I normally find things I dislike about movie versions of books even if I really love the movies (e.g., the Harry Potter series). For once, I’m going to (believe it or not) recommend the movie over the book. Not that everyone shouldn’t read instead of watching so much TV and movies, but this time, make an exception. You’ll be happy you did.