Karen Joy Fowler

The Jane Austen Book Club

My sister threw me this when I was teaching ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in High School. If there were lots of clever parallels I dare say I missed them: I’ve only read Mansfield Park in the last few years, and maybe ‘Emma’ a couple of decades ago. Whatever, the novel on its own got me in from the first few pages. It’s a nice structure for her to work in – alternative perspectives and ages – and she realises it capably. The characters’ histories are probably more interesting than their interplay, but both are engaging. She found a receptive audience in the SF references: any friend of Ursula K. Le Guin is a friend of mine. While she didn’t play it for titillation, the references to sexual deviation popped up often enough to justify raising my eyebrows at the preoccupations of the author. Still, they hardly swamped the novel which, while having a useable plot, ran on interesting and plausible character portraits.

June 2008