Title: The Jane Austen Society
Author: Natalie Jenner
Publisher: 26th May 2020 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 307 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups
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.
"But one can always read Austen.’ And that’s exactly what Austen gives us. A world so a part of our own, yet so separate, that entering it is like some kind of tonic. Even with so many flawed and even silly characters, it all makes sense in the end. It may be the most sense we ever get to make out of our own messed-up world. That’s why she lasts, like Shakespeare. It’s all in there, all of life, all the stuff that counts, and keeps counting, all the way to here, to you.’
This is a sweet story that takes place after WWII involving an unlikely group of people who are bound by their love of the writings of Jane Austen. With this shared passion, they decide to work together to preserve aspects of her life from when the author herself was located in Chawton, England. A definite highlight is this setting ... Chawton ... lovingly portrayed with quaint village life on display.
Firstly, all Austen lovers will fully appreciate the many references made to the original works - it’s lovely to lose yourself not only in the homage paid but also in the comparative analysis given to preferences of Pride and Prejudice over Emma for example; or, Lizzie versus Emma. It is clear to see both the love and knowledge the author has of Austen’s writing. These book discussions subtly run parallel to the events of characters' own lives in the current storyline. A clever blend and there are some passages that I could lose myself in and demanded a reread and ponder:
‘He had gone to work every day merely to survive, saving for himself a few hours every night to disappear into fictional worlds of others’ making. He was hoping to find some answers inside these books, answers for why he didn’t care about some things and cared too much about others. He had always felt different from everyone else around him, different in a way that was so essential to his being that it practically blocked everything else out, it was so huge. It was as if a whole other world were inside him, so big that he couldn't see it without somehow getting completely out of his own way.’
Bring together an eclectic group of characters - ranging from a Hollywood actress, and Sotheby’s auctioneer to the local doctor and farmer to name but a few - and it makes for entertaining reading. What they have in common is their love of Austen’s works and each, in their own way, wishes to keep her words and memories alive. Thus, they come together to form The Jane Austen Society. Multiple stories are handled well as it meanders along at a gentle country pace. You will come to care about these characters who deal with issues ranging from love to loss.
If you adore Jane Austen as I do, then this is perfect for you. It is highly character driven but very gentle in its execution - nothing great happens, it’s the exploration of the everyday with a sprinkle of romance. So put the kettle on, curl up and take a slow stroll through the streets of Chawton post WWII.
(Recommended for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)
‘... inside the pages of each and every book was a whole other world. He could disappear inside that world whenever he needed to - whenever he felt the outside world, and other people, pressing in on him - a pressure from social contact and expectations that was surely routine for everyone else, but affected him much more intensely and inexplicably. But he could also experience things from other people’s point of view and learn their lessons alongside them, and - most important to him - discover the key to living a happy life...’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.