Title: The Jane Austen Society: A Novel
Author: Natalie Jenner
Genre: Historical Fiction, Austenesque Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (May 26, 2020)
Length (320) pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1250248732
eBook ASIN: B07WQPPXFW
Audiobook ASIN: B082VL7VRR
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.
AUDIOBOOK NARRATED BY ACTOR RICHARD ARMITAGE:
The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).
Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt: https://youtu.be/OJ1ACJluRi8
Spotify users can access a playlist for THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY at the following link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5Q1Vl17qyQQIvvPGeIPCkr?si=-iMhVz8uRk2v2mTdolrPdg. The playlist includes music from various film adaptions of Jane Austen’s books, as well as film scores by such incomparable artists as Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Rachel Portman, and Michael Nyman.
I just adored Ms Jenner’s debut novel–I listened to Richard Armitage’s narration in about a day and a half (good grief, that man could narrate cereal boxes to me–fortunately, this novel was light years above grocery store fare!) and loved every minute of it. The vibe of it is very similar to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society , but at its heart it’s really a love letter to Austen and her fans. It’s possible to read and enjoy the book if you’re not a fan of the famous author, but there are definitely times when you might feel a teensy bit of sympathy for the friends and family of society members, who often just don’t “get” their obsession with the author. (That’s okay, we love them anyway. Except for that one–he knows who he is and what he did.
The characters here are wonderful, and at least two of the interwoven storylines closely resemble Austen novels themselves–Emma and Persuasion. I loved reading about all of the various reasons why each character loved Austen and which novel and heroine was their favorite (honestly, other than Adam shaking his head a lot at Darcy and a few discussions of Mr. Knightly and references to Henry Crawford there wasn’t nearly as much focus on the heroes, which was fine). It was delightful to see so many different people finding solace in a single author’s work; as an Austen fan, it made loving Jenner’s characters that much easier.
As someone who also rediscovered Jane Austen’s novels during a time of personal struggle and found solace in them (except Mansfield Park . I keep trying, and I just can’t) the author’s premise here really resonated.
If you’re listening to the audio version as I did, the conversation at the end between Ms Jenner and Kathleen A. Flynn is well worth the listen; a little background into the book and its conception is discussed, as well as whole lot of Austen. (And Northanger Abbey wasn’t dissed, even once. These two are my new favorite Janites! And yes, I see the hypocrisy here after my MP comment, but this is a hill I will die on.)
Rating: 4 1/2 stars / A
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
About the author:
Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.