Picks and Pans Review: The Jane Austen Book Club

UPDATED 05/24/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/24/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

By Karen Joy Fowler

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Five women and a single man meet for an "all-Jane-Austen-all-the-time book club" in Karen Joy Fowler's ingenious fourth novel. As spring turns to summer in Northern California, Fowler's cast reads through Austen's entire oeuvre, revealing their own stories in the process. Sylvia is uncoupling from a 32-year marriage; Jocelyn, her best friend, has sworn off men and begun breeding dogs. Grigg is sure no one wants a nice guy, while Allegra hasn't yet decided whether her next lover will be male or female.

Fans of Emma, Mansfield Park et al will recognize allusions galore, but the real pleasure comes from watching Fowler pay homage to Austen's gift for depicting people in conversation—how they say one thing and mean another. Readers who understand that the subject of most book clubs is not the books but the members will find this modern comedy of manners dishy good fun.

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