Monday, 22 June 2020

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner - Review

Blog Tour: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
Today I’m very pleased to be taking part in a blog tour for the eagerly anticipated book The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner. I’ve seen such praise of this book online in the run up to its release that I was excited to get my mitts on a review copy to find out if it lived up to expectations. Let’s look at the blurb and then I’ll start telling you what I thought of the book.

Book cover: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
Book Description

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.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner - Review

I’d heard lots of good things about this book and was really interested to read something related to Austen that comes in from a different angle – a fictionalised account of the setting up of a society to preserve her legacy by securing the cottage where she lived out her final years in Chawton. This cottage is now the Jane Austen House Museum, and it’s bound to be on the visiting wish list of any Janeite. I had planned to visit it this March, but then impending lockdown intervened!

In the 1930s/40s the interest in Austen wasn’t as mainstream and embraced by the places that benefit from her tourism effect as it is now, but some enthusiastic admirers would make the pilgrimage to the places where they could feel closest to the author. The story begins with one such American going to the tiny village of Chawton. She meets a farmer, Adam, and finding out that he has never read Austen, suggests that he gives her books a try.

Adam has had quite a disappointing existence, having lost his brothers in WWI and his father soon after, which led to the loss of his dreams of studying. Adam finds solace in reading Austen, and he is not the only one in the village who finds comfort in her works.

Part of the comfort they derived from rereading was the satisfaction of knowing there would be closure – of feeling, each time, an inexplicable anxiety over whether the main characters would find love and happiness, while all the while knowing, on some different parallel interior track, that it was all going to work out in the end.

As the book goes on we meet more of these people; they have all individually had troubles and disappointments in their lives and to varying degrees most of them are existing rather than living.  

He had been sitting in a window seat, watching everyone else go by, not putting himself out there. And getting nothing in return.

Over time these people start to come together, connected by their love of Austen and the importance of her work to them. As the incumbent owner of the estate is reaching the end of his life and the future of the cottage looks uncertain the idea sparks that they will try to preserve it as a lasting legacy.  

The society itself sounded like a band of misfits with negligible expertise and no head for business: a country doctor, an old maid, a schoolmarm, a bachelor farmer, a fey auctioneer, a conflict-averse solicitor, a scullery maid and one Hollywood movie star.
I was absolutely swept up by this story, right from the beginning. The author has a real gift for drawing the reader in. When I had to put the book down it took me a little while to come back to reality, which is one of the best things for me about reading a book that you are really immersed in.

I enjoyed the slow build, getting to know each of the members of the Society, and their backstories. A lot of them were connected not only by their love of Austen, but that her stories provided them with comfort from their grief – either at losing people, or losing their futures. There were also some relationship dynamics which mirrored some of those in Austen’s stories which I enjoyed, but felt could have been a little more subtle.

As these people are all big admirers of Austen there is also some discussion of her books between them, and you are privy to some of their thoughts about her characters and storylines. I really liked this aspect as it gives the opportunity for the reader to think about the points raised, which might never have occurred to you before if you haven’t studied or discussed them. You could read this book if you hadn’t read Austen’s works but I think this is an extra benefit for those who are more familiar with them, that you will have your own view on the books being discussed.

As with anything with some basis in reality, I like to be clear whether a story is entirely fictionalised, or whether there is truth, and if so, what is true. There is an author’s note at the end which makes it clear that this is a fictional account and gives a brief rundown on what actually happened.

The only downside this book had for me was some of the language used. There were quite a few phrases and words used that sounded quite American which I felt made the dialogue feel too modern for the period, particularly when being said by older people. There were also instances of things which didn’t seem quite right, such as tea bags being used, which weren’t sold in the UK until the 1950s and a marriage taking place at the suggestion of a vicar without a licence or banns being read which I think would invalidate it. However, I still really enjoyed the story and found myself carried away by it.

In terms of content, there is the odd swear word, and no sex scenes, but there is a brief scene of sexual violence.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was seeing the relationships between the characters grow. So many of them were quite alone, even if they didn’t initially realise that they were lonely, they needed the connection with other people. There was even a dash of romance, both of the slow burning and the unexpected variety! I found this a heart-warming story. I would recommend it and rate it at 4½ stars.  

4.5 star read

*I was provided with an e-ARC of The Jane Austen Society for my honest review, courtesy of the US publisher, St Martin's Press. My thanks also go to Laurel Ann Nattress for arranging the blog tour.

Author Natalie Jenner
Author Bio

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.

Audio book cover: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
Buy Links

The Jane Austen Society is available to buy now in hardback, paperback, and ebook. It’s also available in audio, narrated by RICHARD ARMITAGE. Oh, my days! How exciting is THAT! You can enjoy an audio excerpt here.

The Jane Austen House Museum
The Jane Austen House Museum
Fundraising for the Jane Austen House Museum: At this point in time Jane Austen House Museum is asking for fundraising help again. In The Jane Austen Society appeals for help were done via advertisements in newspapers etc, but of course these days it’s all done online. The Museum’s finances rely on visitors and for the past 13 weeks no visitors have been able to visit. This might be the case for the foreseeable future. The Museum has been successful in reaching their fundraising target, to help try and keep this important tribute to Jane Austen running and able to welcome us, however, I am sure that they would welcome any additional donation any of us would like to give. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so via JustGiving. I am told that US donors can get a tax deduction if they donate via JASNA.

Blog Tour: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
Blog Tour Schedule

Join the virtual online book tour of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, Natalie Jenner’s highly acclaimed debut novel May 25 through June 30, 2020. Seventy-five popular blogs and websites specializing in historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature interviews and reviews of this post-WWII novel set in Chawton, England.

May 25         Jane Austen's World
May 25         Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog
May 26         Frolic Media
May 26         A Bookish Affair
May 26         Courtney Reads Romance
May 26         Margie's Must Reads
May 26         The Reading Frenzy
May 27         Book Confessions of an Ex-Ballerina
May 27         Gwendalyn's Books
May 27         Romantically Inclined Reviews
May 28         Getting Your Read On
May 28         Living Read Girl
May 28         The Lit Bitch
May 29         History Lizzie
May 29         Silver Petticoat Reviews
May 30         Cup of Tea with that Book, Please
May 30         Historical Fiction Reader
May 31         Jane Austen in Vermont
June 01        From Pemberley to Milton
June 01        My Jane Austen Book Club
June 01        AustenBlog
June 02        Lu's Reviews
June 02        The Green Mockingbird
June 03        Relz Reviews
June 03        Impressions in Ink
June 04        The Caffeinated Bibliophile
June 04        Life of Literature
June 04        Laura's Reviews
June 05        Reading Ladies Book Club
June 05        Bookish Rantings
June 06        From the TBR Pile
June 07        Rachel Dodge
June 07        An Historian About Town
June 08        Bringing up Books
June 08        Austenesque Reviews
June 09        Captivated Reading
June 09        Savvy Verse and Witt
June 10        Lady with a Quill
June 10        Drunk Austen
June 11        Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
June 11        Inkwell Inspirations
June 12        Nurse Bookie
June 12        A Bookish Way of Life
June 13        Calico Critic
June 14        Jane Austen's World
June 15        Stuck in a Book
June 15        Storybook Reviews
June 15        Confessions of a Book Addict
June 16        Literary Quicksand
June 16        Becky on Books
June 17        The Reading Frenzy
June 17        Anita Loves Books
June 18        Chicks, Rogues, & Scandals
June 18        The Write Review
June 19        Diary of Eccentric
June 20        Cracking the Cover
June 21        Short Books & Scribes
June 22        Reading the Past
June 22        Babblings of a Bookworm
June 23        My Vices and Weaknesses
June 23        The Book Diva Reads
June 24        Books, Teacups & Reviews
June 24        Wishful Endings
June 25        Robin Loves Reading
June 25        Bookfoolery
June 26        Lit and Life
June 26        Vesper's Place
June 27        Foxes and Fairy Tales
June 28        Probably at the Library
June 28        Scuffed Slippers Wormy Books
June 29        The Anglophile Channel
June 29        So Little Time…
June 30        BookNAround

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  1. It sounds like a wonderful story! I’m putting it on my wishlist today!

    1. I would recommend it for your wishlist :)

  2. Hi Ceri.
    I hope you and yours are keeping safe as life slowly starts to return to some semblance of normality.
    I’m glad you enjoyed this heartwarming story.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Hi Mary, hope you are keeping safe too. We are quite well, thank you. It's still quite locked down in Wales, we can only meet with other households outdoors at a 2m distance, and are not meant to travel more than 5 miles from the house. Next week the kids go back to school but with far less children there than normal, so they will only get a few sessions before the end of term. It will be good for them though.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the review, thanks for commenting!

  3. Replies
    1. It is a lovely story, I really enjoyed it :)

  4. I like the way you describe getting caught up in it and that's how I felt, too. Great review, Ceri!

    1. Thanks so much, Sophia! I had to put the book down to prepare a meal and my husband asked me what was wrong as I looked like I had something on my mind... that something was Adam the farmer - I was worried about his mental state, LOL!

  5. Lovely review, Ceri. I am so glad that you enjoyed it. Best, LA

    1. Thanks Laurel Ann. I appreciate you stopping by. Thanks for letting me be part of the blog tour!


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