Quite belatedly, I read The Jane Austen Book Club on my recent holiday. Ordinarily this is the sort of book I would never pick up but Karen Joy Fowler so charmed me with We are all Completely Beside Ourselves that I thought I was being a title snob and missing out on a good thing. And I got it as an ebook so I didn’t have to worry about others judging my reading material.
The Jane Austen Book Club is a nice little book. Engaging and entertaining but not great like some of Fowler’s other work. At one point my husband looked over my shoulder to see what I was reading and commented that we had already seen this movie. I told him he must be thinking of something else; Austenland maybe? But he (and IMDB) proved me wrong. Fowler’s book has been adapted into a film, one that I’ve apparently seen and forgotten all about. That’s the problem here. The Jane Austen Book Club, pleasant though it was, is filed in my memory with so many other books and films just like it.
We think we’re so clever with the Austen stuff, don’t we? Adapting, satirizing her stuff to death because we want MORE AUSTEN but she’s long dead and her oeuvre is so small. When these adaptations are successful we’re gleeful; Clueless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but usually they’re more mundane. We feel clever because because we recognize the characters in the adaptation from the original text and we’re reading Austen without breaking our personal ‘only read Pride and Prejudice once every two years or you’ll seem crazy’ rule.
So how do we solve a problem like Jane Austen? Readers seek out the adaptations because we’re hungry for more Austen (and it’s never coming) and though we’re occasionally rewarded with some new ideas. Writers and publishers know we’re hungry for this stuff so they keep producing it, the good and the bad, because they know we’ll eat it up. It’s not what Jane Austen would have wanted guys. Leave the empire waistlines and passionate letter-writing to the pros and come up with your own ideas.
Karen Joy Fowler is a magnificent writer and We are all Completely Beside Ourselves was so good because the premise was so … out there. Constrained by the rules of adaptation her writing was much less exciting. I love Elizabeth Bennett as much as the next gal, but there are so many new stories out there to be told. Why don’t we try giving those our attention?