Recently, Pj and I watched The Jane Austen Book Club, a film about a group of readers — five women and one guy — who meet once a month to discuss one of Jane Austen’s books. One month it’s Sense and Sensibility; the next it’s Persuasion and so on. The movie was directed by Robin Swicord, who also wrote the screenplay, and stars Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman, and Hugh Dancy. Here’s the trailer:

I don’t think the movie was a huge success or critically acclaimed, but I really liked it. I thought all of the actors were good and that the plot was endearing.

So, I asked a friend of mine to lend me her copy of the novel by Karen Joy Fowler so I could read it. I had started it a week or so ago, and I took it with me to visit PJ and finished it on my first night in Worcester. To state it bluntly, I loved the novel. It’s now one of my favorite novels, I think.

What I liked most about it is that the narrative is actually much more complicated than one might think a novel about people reading Jane Austen novels would be. It’s actually rather postmodern in its narrative form. The novel has a narrator, who appears to be one of the book club members, but we never know which one. One portion of the novel is told through a series of emails exchanged by a group of peripheral characters. And finally, the questions for book clubs at the end of the book are “written” by the characters themselves — they’re hilarious!

When my lesbian and gay literature class was discussing the concept of being “post-gay” last quarter, one of them mentioned a character in this book/movie as a possible example of being “post-gay.” Now having read the novel, I don’t really think that’s the case, but I do like the novel’s treatment of its gay character, Allegra. Just like the other characters, we see her love life and especially her problems with love. I guess in that sense this novel is post-gay — Allegra is exactly like all of the other characters. Her sexuality isn’t treated any differently than the other characters’.

I also like that this is the kind of novel one wants to start over as soon as you’ve gotten to the end. It’s fun, funny, and touching. The movie is good, but it doesn’t really capture all of the book’s flair. For example, most of the characters in the novel are at least ten years older than the ones in the movie. While I suppose it makes sense to make them a little younger and more attractive for the moviegoers, the book’s depiction of more normal people, to use a completely inadequate phrase, is more appealing.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the movie. Mario Bello is especially good and really captures Jocelyn’s complexities as a single woman who seems to have given up on men and love. When she meets Grigg, played by Hugh Dancy, she initially sees him as a potential set up for her friend Sylvia (Brenneman) who is getting divorced. He isn’t interested in Sylvia; he’d rather date Jocelyn. Her growing realization of his desire and her surprise that she returns it makes her relationship with the other characters more complicated. Bello does a great job balancing Jocelyn’s bitterness and attractive intelligence.

While I like the movie — and who in their right mind wouldn’t like to see the beautiful Dancy in just about anything — I love the book. Next month, I’m part of a panel discussion on Jane Austen and recent rewritings of her work. I hope some of the students in the audience will have seen the movie and/or read the book and that we’ll be able to discuss it as part of the panel. I’d love the chance to share my love of The Jane Austen Book Club with others.

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