The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

2004. Audio CD (Unabridged). Listen & Live Audio.

Read by: Kimberly Schraf

From: the public library

In a nutshell:

The backstories and current dramas of six Californians intertwine with themes of Jane Austen, as the characters read and discuss all of the Austen novels in the course of Karen Joy Fowler’s book.  There are mother-and-daughter, Sylvia and Allegra; verbose and kooky Bernadette, uptight Prudie, take-charge, slightly oblivious Jocelyn, and lone man Grigg who has never read Austen before in his life.

 

Jocelyn and Grigg in a scene from the film adaptation

 

Review:

A couple of years ago, I watched the film adaptation of The Jane Austen Book Club.  I was attracted by the cast: Emily Blunt, Maria Bello, Hugh Dancy, among others.  I thought the movie mediocre at first, but my mind kept going back to certain scenes, such as when Grigg (played by Dancy) enchants Jocelyn (Bello) in a bookstore, as he tells her of how he came to love sci-fi.  It’s not a perfect film – riddled with some hokiness and turning a little bland at times – but I have become fond of it anyway.

My new job is a longer commute than my old job, and a couple of weeks ago, I decided an audio book might make D.C. traffic more tolerable.  With a book of high interest to me, I prefer to interact directly with the text, without a reader’s interpretation in between.  So when choosing an audio book, I let myself be guided by serendipity and idle curiosity.  I saw The Jane Austen Book Club on the shelf and decided it might be interesting to compare it to the film.

As an audio book experience, The Jane Austen Book Club proved to be up to the job.  I looked forward to listening to it during my drive.  I didn’t always like Kimberly Schraf’s reading of the book, particularly her handling of dialogue and men’s voices.  However, her airy, even arch tone of voice, played up the novel’s comic aspects which I appreciated.

I enjoyed the parallels between the novels and the events in the character’s lives.  I liked that the parallels were not too neat, not too blow-by-blow recreations of Emma, Mansfield Park, etc.  Grigg’s backstory and its connection to Northanger Abbey was my particular favorite of all the interrelated stories.  I loved the story of his father, the hitchhikers and Grigg’s fierce and awesome sisters.  Sylvia and Allegra are the weakest and least interesting characters and their sections of the narrative drag a bit.

Overall, I was entertained.  I think listening to it on an Audio CD definitely was in the novel’s favor.  It had my almost undivided attention and book-ended my workday with a little solitude and escape while driving.

 

Emily Blunt as Prudie

 

Comparison to the film:

I read part of an essay by Fowler on the film adaptation online before listening to the audio CD.  She did express one disappointment that I recall and that was that the film characterized Grigg as a wealthy man, which he was not in the book.

Certainly, there were many changes made to the story when it became a film.  The fifty-something characters of Jocelyn and Sylvia were played by forty-something actresses, forty-something Grigg was played by thirty-something Hugh Dancy.  In the book, Prudie is hit on by one of her high school students and has some slight tension with her husband.  In the film, both of these elements are escalated.

And yet, I liked how the film had the book club members interacting more with each other than they did in the book.  Stories that are flashbacks in a character’s mind are told out loud from one character to another.  Characters confide in each other more in the film. I loved Emily Blunt’s performance as Prudie, and I think I prefer how the Grigg and Jocelyn romantic storyline plays out in the film than in the book.

Still, the book offered stories about the characters that did not make it into the film, such as the story about Grigg I mentioned earlier.  I think I enjoy the film more, but really both the book and the film adaptation have their merits and detractions.

Other Reviews:

Amber Stults – “All of the characters are well rounded and have more to them than what lies on the surface.  Even the lone male member of the book club gets the same treatment as the female members.  In short, each gets a chance to shine.”

Reading Thru the Night – “… although I thought the concept was pretty cool, the writing oftentimes felt rather detached. I wanted the characters to be more three-dimensional than they were.”

Sasha & The Silverfish – “What I liked about the novel was that, for someone like myself who hasn’t actually read Jane Austen, the discussions about the novels weren’t alienating.”

The Written Word – “…the narrative felt disjointed and didn’t flow well. In addition, I never connected or really cared about any of the characters . . .I found the movie to be so much more enjoyable.”

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7 Comments

Filed under Book Review

7 responses to “The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

  1. Thanks for this review! I heard mixed things about the book and movie when they first came out, but I ended up getting the DVD for free. And I found I really liked it and have gone back and watched it a few more times! I am now tempted by the book, but considering your review, I think I’d more likely pick up the print book than the audio.

  2. i haven’t read this–i did have a used copy of the book in my hands a few weeks back but recalled less-than-stellar reviews from the blogs so i put it down.

    i’m going to see if netflix has the movie on demand. i’ll let you know what i think. 🙂

  3. Jo

    I, too, saw the movie before I read the book, and I definitely liked the movie better. I attribute this (mostly) to the scene between Prudie and her husband reading Persuasion. Sigh. So wonderful. I will definitely check out Fowler’s essay! Thanks for the review.

  4. Carin – Yeah, the reader for the audio book was sometimes spot on and sometimes the tone was weird. I’m not sure if I would have ever gotten around to the book if it wasn’t on audio, though.

    Nat – I actually first watched the film on Instant Watch, so I hope it’s still there so you can check it out!

    Jo – That scene with Persuasion is fantastic. The whole Prudie storyline in the movie is so much more intense in the film than in the book.

  5. I didn’t try this one in audio, maybe it helps, because I only remember how much this book disappointed me. I’ve never watched the movie, maybe I should give that one a try?

  6. I watched the movie, but haven’t read the book yet. As you said, hokey at times, but I definitely enjoyed it!

  7. Iris – I remember thinking as I was listening to the CD that it probably wouldn’t be as good to read it. As an ensemble book that switched focus between all of the characters, it was well-suited to commute-long chunks. I think the movie is better, as apparently do some of the other commenters.

    bekkah – I don’t think I would have picked up the audio book if I hadn’t seen and enjoyed the movie first.

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