I rounded out my 2020 reading on a high, with the brilliantly moving historical-fiction, The Jane Austen Society by new-to-me author Natalie Jenner. This was a random request from Netgalley, because, well, it had Jane Austen in the title! Then I started seeing glowing reviews of it from around the blogosphere, so I bumped it to the top of my Kindle TBR.
And I was not to be disappointed! This dazzling debut novel from Jenner, opens just after WWII, in the small English village of Chawton, Hampshire; which 150 years ago was the final home to one of England’s finest novelists: Jane Austen. Sadly today it is only home to a few distant relatives and a diminishing estate, and this threatens the last bit of Austen’s legacy, so a like-minded group of Austen fans band together to attempt something remarkable: to save Austen’s home and family heirlooms from a slovenly heir and greedy investors.
This disparate group is made up of a quiet farmer, a young teacher, a bachelor lawyer, a widowed doctor, a young maid, a flamboyant auctioneer, an American actress and the last living relative of the Austen family. They really could not be more different and yet Jenner shows beautifully how they are united by their mutual love for the wonderful work of Austen. 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, through which they also find friendship, love and hope.
Now I do need to make it clear that these are all fictional characters, even though the setting and society are both real. Choosing not to use real characters from the group may be a little controversial for some, however it does give Jenner the freedom to completely create from scratch their histories and personalities, without any need to worry that living relatives could be upset or angry. I personally ended up loving and being really invested in all of these characters as if they were real!
This links into the one negative review I saw of this novel, where the reader was upset with a long list of historical inaccuracies they had spotted. If I am honest I didn’t spot or was bothered by any glaring inaccuracies. But then again I was so invested in the characters, if there had been any maybe I wouldn’t have noticed. Because at the end of the day if you are looking for an accurate history of the real Jane Austen Society this is probably not the book for you. Instead this is a character driven drama, that eloquently explores how the love of books can bring people from across society together and give them hope and purpose.
Overall I thought The Jane Austen Society was a very moving English yarn, that made me smile, made me cry and made me remember why I love Jane Austen so much. It was the perfect antidote to today’s troubling times and inspired me to immediately start a re-read of Austen’s Northanger Abbey. I look forward to seeing what Natalie Jenner will write next. Great read ⭐⭐⭐
(Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion)
Now I’d love to hear your thoughts: Have you read this? Or any other books about Jane Austen fans you’d recommend?