The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler ***
I did an incredibly un-bookish thing with The Jane Austen Book Club, and watched the film before I read the book. Ordinarily, I am an ardent believer in doing things the other way round, but originally, this was not a book which I thought would appeal to me. After watching the film – which I quite enjoyed – however, I decided to add the novel to my to-read notebook, and finally got around to reading it some years later. I took The Jane Austen Book Club with me on a trip to France, thinking that it would be a good choice with which to unwind. I didn’t actually get the chance to read it until I was travelling back home, but that is irrelevant to all intents and purposes. Throughout, I liked the way in which the present day story was interwoven with episodes from the pasts of the characters. This was a technique which worked well in terms of getting to know each of the protagonists over time.
Each month, the group in question read one of Jane Austen’s novels. There are six contributors in all to the book club, and, of course, six novels which they are able to read. The whole of the book has therefore been split into month-long sections which, as one might expect, mainly deal with each book club meeting. The whole feels oddly detached at times, and it is true to say that I like the idea of The Jane Austen Book Club more than its execution. It is not badly written at all, but I don’t think that it is a book which I will ever choose to re-read. I am unsure as to whether I would have enjoyed the book more had I read it before watching the film. It was entertaining enough, certainly, but I am glad that I borrowed it from the library rather than purchasing it.
Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall **
Brown Girl, Brownstones had been on my to-read shelf for ages, and I was pleased when the chance to read it finally came out of my book choice jar. The blurb, which deals with the assimilation of a Barbadian family into Depression-era New York, intrigued me, and I was looking forward to reading some of Marshall’s work at long last. Our protagonist is a young girl named Selina, and through her, the novel does tend to become sexually charged at times – both in terms of her reaching puberty, and the overheard relations of others in her neighbourhood. The examination of how different races were received in the society in which the main family lived was most interesting, and I believe that the third person perspective worked well with the unfolding story. Despite this, the characters did never felt quite real against the plot or backdrops.
At first, I thought that this would be a novel which I would love. The descriptions, particularly in the first passage, are sumptuous. In steep contrast, however, the dialogue within the novel – most of which is shown in dialect – seemed rather drab in comparison. I have mixed feelings about Brown Girl, Brownstones. If it were made up entirely of Marshall’s pretty prose, I do not doubt that I would have very much enjoyed it. The addition of the dialogue only served to render the novel rather uneven. A lot of the conversations were wholly superfluous to the rest of the novel. Brown Girl, Brownstones is relatively interesting in terms of the history which it presents, but in no way was it as enjoyable or memorable as I had so hoped that it would be. Based upon this, I will certainly not rush to acquaint myself with Marshall’s other work in future.