Friday, June 26, 2020

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
Read by Richard Armitage
Published May 2020 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my audio copy courtesy of the publisher, through Austenprose, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
Here's the thing - you all know I love Jane Austen. Or have I not reread one of her books in so long that you don't, in fact, know that? Well, I do. For some fans of Austen, that means that they can't get enough of anything that has to do with her beloved story lines, characters, and personal life. For me, it's kind of the opposite. I often find myself getting annoyed when I pick up books that try to "cash in on" Austen. But, for some reason, I took a chance on this one. Maybe it's just the times we live in. There's a comfort to Austen that I needed right now.

In the spirit of Erica Bauermeister, J. Ryan Stradal, and J. Courtney Sullivan, Jenner introduces readers to an ensemble cast of characters. None are without their struggles. I went into this book expecting light fare but Jenner has touched on a number of deeper themes - death, addiction, homosexuality, the aftermath of war, and difficult family relationships. For a book set in a small town, this could have come off as forced to make the storyline more dramatic. But, given the time period and the way Jenner handled it, it felt entirely believable.

I loved the way Jenner tied Austen's work to these characters and made it relevant to their lives, made it feel perfectly natural that these people would love her books and want to honor her genius.
“No sooner had the words left his mouth than Dr. Gray realized that time was the one thing so many in their sleepy little village seemed to have. Jane Austen had used her time here for housework and visits and composing works of genius. That the population of Chawton had barely varied since then made Dr. Gray suddenly see each of the villagers as almost pure one-to-one substitutes for those of the past. If they weren’t up to the task of preserving Austen’s legacy, who on earth ever would be?”
You expect that you know how the book will end and you'll probably be right; the guy that feels like the bad guy turns out to be the bad guy, couples end up together, and the society is successful.'s not all happily-ever-after which actually made me a little sad but did keep it from being too saccharine.

Richard Armitage reads the audiobook and it seems to be tough for him to find enough women's voices for all of them to sound somewhat natural. It's a problem I've noticed in other books read by men; so often at least one of the female voices will sound like a little girl rather than an adult. Armitage, otherwise, does a marvelous job but I think this book would have made a wonder choice to have it read by a cast of readers.

Oh, and one last thing, can we just talk about that cover? It is both gorgeous and perfectly sums up the book. It's the kind of cover that jumps off the book shelf!

For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour here.

Natalie Jenner was born in England and emigrated to Canada as a young child. She obtained her B.A. and her LL.B. from the University of Toronto, where she was the 1990 Gold Medalist in English Literature at St. Michael's College, and was Called to the Bar of Ontario in 1995. In addition to a brief career as a corporate lawyer, Natalie has worked as a recruiter, career coach, and consultant to leading law firms in Canada for over two decades. Most recently Natalie founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. A lifelong devotee of all things Jane Austen, "The Jane Austen Society" is her first published novel.

1 comment:

  1. I love listening to Richard Armitage narrating so I am contemplating this one for that reason alone.