The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner
In the years after World War II, the residents of the tiny English village of Chawton are coming to terms with their collective loss. Husbands and brothers have been lost to the war, and the economy is struggling.
However, 150 years previously, Chawton had a resident who, although unknown at the time, is rather famous now. Jane Austen. Her distant relatives still live in a deteriorating manor house, with an impressive library of books that Jane Austen would have read during her time here.
Several members of the community decided to try to save the small home where Austen lived while in Chawton. They were an unlikely band, including a widower doctor, a farmer, a widow, a 16 year old girl, a descendant of Austen herself, an American actress, and a Sotheby’s memorabilia scout. As they embarked on their charitable cause, they also revived old friendships and formed new ones.
The Jane Austen Society has parallel stories; the surface story is the mission of the group to save Austen’s home and open it as a museum. This story is interwoven with the stories and lives of the characters, which provide a rich depth to this novel. Their stories often parallel the life of Austen, and her connection to family, and also her loneliness. It is this connection that makes this a fantastic book.
Natalie Jenner writes believably about literature, friendship, grief, and loneliness. Her characters are believable, with real trials and victories. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Note: Although there really was an effort to save Austen’s home in Chawton, Jenner explains that her novel’s characters are purely fictional.