Editorial note: I received a copy of The Jane Austen Society in exchange for a review.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner is a lovely novel about a group of wounded people coming together in a shared love of fiction.
I have to disclose a fact: I’m not a Jane Austen stan. I haven’t read her books since high school and while I enjoyed them, I’ve never revisited it in adulthood. I recognize her greater contribution to fiction but I’m not as enamored with her stories like other book lovers. That’s not to say I don’t think the stories are good and I do like many of the movie adaptations but I tend to read more contemporary authors.
Still though, I think there is something special about fiction centered around people reading books like in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (I still need to watch the Netflix film version!). And I enjoyed the movie version of The Jane Austen Book Club back in the day (although Emily Blunt’s storyline is pretty jarring and disturbing but that’s a whole other topic).
Anyway, I was quite curious about The Jane Austen Society.
Here’s the synopsis:
Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people―a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others―could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.
A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all, Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society is destined to resonate with readers for years to come.
As you can see there are quite a bit of characters to follow in this one. I think the author Natalie Jenner did a great job of exploring into all the characters wants and motivations. These characters have experienced heartache and loss in many different kinds of ways. And they’re still reeling from the events of both WWI and WWII. Overcoming grief is a huge theme of this story.
The characters felt very vivid, while at the same time, could almost star in their own Jane Austen story. I loved the developing friendships, and yes, some romances, between these people. I was most engaged with the young widow and local doctor storyline as they are especially bonded through unimaginable sorrow. But also through their love of Jane Austen.
I have to say, I wasn’t immediately in love with the story when I started it. I think part of it was the long discussions of Jane Austen’s own characters. It really is like you’re eavesdropping on an unofficial book club meeting. Since it’s been so long since I’ve read any of Jane Austen stories, or even watched the film versions, I felt a little out of my element when I read their viewpoints and discussions. It was pretty early in the book with these types of talks but as the story went on, we get to learn more about this novel’s characters. The thread of the shared Jane Austen bond is there throughout the story, but the characters start to grow into their own.
Again, when I first started to read it, I wondered if the audience for this would be quite niche: historical fiction and Jane Austen lovers. But as I got more into the story, I changed my thoughts on that—I do think that there’s something for everyone in this book, even if you’re not a Jane Austen stan. And if you’re a Jane Austen fan, you’ll love this one.
It truly is a very sweet and quiet novel. And I also think it serves as a good distraction read during these challenging times.
Check out my book club questions here.