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.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Natalie Jenner's The Jane Austen Society was an unusual pick for me. I am naturally drawn to novels with heavier subject matter and more complex political themes, but something in the premise caught my eye, so I decided to try my luck.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, it should be understood that I am not a Janeite. I have read some of Austen's books, and I have a working knowledge of her life, but I do not go weak in the knees at the mere mention of Mr. Darcy. This makes me something of an anomaly among the reviewers who have offered comments on The Jane Austen Society, but I think my neutrality on Austen allowed me to assess Jenner's work from a different angle than those harboring a pre-existing passion for the classics and their creator.
Having said this, I admit I enjoyed the time I spent with Jenner's debut. I feel the novel falls to the lighter end of the historical fiction spectrum, but I thought the book offered a lovely portrait of village life in the wake of World War II. The fact that Jenner's cast is multi-generational also brings something special to the story as their diverse reflections and perspectives showcase the universal appeal of Austen's work and how fans come to understand it differently each time they visit it.
I enjoyed Evie Stone and delighted in her effort to catalog the Knight library, but I fell hard for Dr. Gray, Adam Berwick, and Adeline Forrester. Publishing trends favor stories that focus on younger leads, but I found the older members of Jenner's cast far more intriguing. Their stories are predictable, but the emotional nuance of their arcs more than make up for the general lack of ambiguity.
The only character I did not like was Mimi Harrison. I do not know if she was a late addition to the novel, but she struck me as out of place. Almost like she was shoehorned into the story on the heels of #MeToo to give the novel contemporary relevance. I do not wish to imply that theme unimportant or her character lacking, just that I did not feel either inherent to The Jane Austen Society and wish Jenner had held both in reserve for another release.
Comparatively speaking, I feel The Jane Austen Society falls somewhere between Fowlet's The Jane Austen Book Club and Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The book is a little slow in terms of pace, but I thought it delightfully heartwarming and look forward to reading Jenner again in future.
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 30, 2020