The estimable Fowler (Sister Noon, 2001, etc.) offers a real delight as she follows the lives of six members of a book club.
Not a moment passes without its interest as we meet Jocelyn (who raises Rhodesian Ridgebacks); her best friend since girlhood, Sylvia (née Sanchez); Sylvia’s daughter Allegra, an artist who’s now 30 and a lesbian; high-school French teacher, Prudie, 28 and flighty; the talkative Bernadette, turning 67 and the oldest; and the only man, Grigg Harris, unmarried, in his 40s, new to the neighborhood—and a science-fiction buff who’s never read Jane Austen. Month by month, the group meets at one house or another to discuss the agreed-upon book, and all the while Fowler keeps things moving with a fine and inventive dexterity, lingering in the present at one moment, dipping way back into the adolescent years of Jocelyn and Sylvia at another (Sylvia marries Jocelyn’s boyfriend; Jocelyn remains single), sometimes touching on the life of Austen herself, then popping back to escort us through Grigg’s plain but fascinating history (he had three sisters, no brother), or to let us in on what makes Prudie flighty, how many husbands Bernadette had, or what happened when Allegra jumped from an airplane. Much of the charm lies in the book discussions themselves—never dry, ever revealing, always on the psychological mark—and much indeed also lies in the many perfect Austen-esque moments, situations, misunderstandings, recognitions, and reversals that make up the web and woof of the novel. We learn early that after 30 years of perfect marriage Sylvia’s husband has left her. That event, in one way or another, will touch on everyone, and before the end there’ll be a positively lovely re-sorting of relationships, places, and positions, all done in today’s most perfect emulation of Jane that you could ever imagine.
Bright, engaging, dexterous literary entertainment for everyone, though with many special treats and pleasures for Janeites.