As well as showcasing Austen's novels, this is very much a character piece. Each of the six book club members are entirely individual and it makes for much more interesting and amusing reading. Bernadette is a serial wife, rather eccentric and flamboyant, with a liking for yoga and Pride and Prejudice. Loyal Sylvia works at the library and has just had her life shattered by her husband Daniel's confession that he is leaving her for another woman. Her beautiful daughter Allegra is constantly doing daring things - not always without paying the price - and is getting over a devastating betrayal by her ex-girlfriend Corinne. Jocelyn is a dominant terminal singleton, afraid of being hurt and making up for it by matchmaking everyone else. Prudie is a rather artificial, self-conscious young French teacher who doesn't quite know how to interact with other people without coming across all wrong. And Grigg, poor Grigg, a sci-fi fan and Austen virgin brought into the group by Jocelyn as a distraction for Sylvia, is entirely out of his depth and trying not to make an idiot of himself. The novel is narrated by a kind of all-seeing other, one who describes each character in the third person but frequently mentions 'us' and 'we'; part of the fun of the reading is trying to work out which of the six, if any, might be telling the story.
Thus characters are strengthened, love blossoms and dies and blooms again, and the story goes on. Of course it ends with optimism, hope and a well-timed bit of Austen wisdom. To my surprise, at the end of the book Fowler has also added some little extras which add to the reading experience - some contemporary and modern literary criticism of Austen and her novels, a brief summary of each of the books (handy for those not familiar with all of the works, or those who might want a quick refresher on characters and plots), and at the VERY end, a funny set of 'Questions for Discussion' on Austen AND Fowler presented by each of the six book club members.
Clearly a liking for Jane Austen helps when reading this novel, but ultimately there is nothing in here that should put off a less knowledgeable reader, particularly given the handy summaries at the back (which I wish I'd noticed earlier, I must admit). It is a scrumptious book - funny, romantic, inspiring and positive - and definitely one I'd like to read again sometime.
Ultimately, I just think the film takes everything the book did and does it better. It aligns the characters' experiences with the six Austen novels, it offers humour and romance, it knocks ten years off Allegra's age (thus broadening its appeal down an extra generation, I think), it has plenty of bookish chatter, and most importantly of all, I never ever get to the end without having a big smile plastered across my face. That's movie love, folks!
|Kathy Baker (Bernadette), Emily Blunt (Prudie), Amy Brenneman (Sylvia), Maggie Grace (Allegra), Maria Bello (Jocelyn) and Hugh Dancy (Grigg)|