The story starts when Sylvia’s marriage with Daniel ends and her friends, looking for a
good distraction, decide to make up this book club around Jane Austen’s main novels. So, these five women and a guy, (Grigg, an outsider to the group that is invited by Jocelyn, Sylvia’s best friend, with the idea of setting them up), read these 6 novels during 6
months, and each one of them is the host for one book. The characters have, of course, very different personalities and the book is, of course, organized in 6 main chapters, which are an excuse to narrate each character’s background story, and the narration goes backwards and then back to the present constantly, in a very dynamic and not chaotic way. In those six months, we get to see a little the way they relate with each other, with their families / partners, how they choose to live their lives. The thing is, we don’t actually get a lot of what the book club is like. Those interactions, the meetings, they’re not very extensive, and always seem very superficial, and the background stories have a lot more weight.
For the reader, the first encounter with the characters seems very sudden. In a very few pages you have a lot of names right in your face, before you could barely individualize each character, but before you notice, you get very familiarize with them.
I found strange the place the narrator had in the story. Most of the time during the book
was a third-person narrative, but sometimes it turned into plural first-person. “We sat in a circle”, “she introduced us to Grigg”… But you never knew exactly who was talking. You never read “I”. At first I found it quite stressing “What did I miss? Who’s talking?”, but then I started to think “Maybe they’re all telling the story at once, and I’ll never found out who’s talking now and who’s talking next”. I never did.
The book also comes, at the end of the story, with a “Reader’s guide” that contains a synopsis of each Austen’s novel (in case some clueless reader hasn’t read them already) a large amount of commentaries about the novels and Austen, from various critics, writers or Austen’s friends and family, and three questions from each character to the reader, to reflect about the novels, their story and other things in general, related to what we read in their chapters. A very nice touch.
All in all, it’s a good book.
There’s a movie adaptation that is pretty fun.