What do Alicia Silverstone and Noel Gallagher have in common? I’m not aware of Alicia having any famous siblings, so I’m going to go with the fact they both owe their careers to the works of creative excellence that came before them.
In Noel’s case, he’s frequently confirmed there wouldn’t be a Wonderwall without The Beatles. In Alicia’s case, there wouldn’t be Cher and Clueless without Jane Austen and her Emma. And since this is a book club, let’s leave the Gallagher brothers to fight amongst themselves and move onwards to Jane Austen, one of the most well known and influential authors of all time.
Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Emma have not only outlived their author, they’ll outlive us all, thanks to the continuing inspiration they grant to so much of popular culture. A small note on the things that wouldn’t exist without Jane before we get cracking with this month’s three books:
- Colin Firth’s career – and that scene in the lake which has inspired dirty thoughts ever since.
- Bridget Jones’ Diary and those big pants.
- Gwyneth Paltrow’s career – allowing her to now grace us with the joy that is vagina eggs.
- Emma Thompson’s run on hilarious awards acceptance speeches.
- Pretty much every National Trust membership purchased by an under 50.
- The so-bad-it’s-good, Bollywood crossover movie, Bride and Prejudice.
- Kate Winslet’s career, which post Austen went on to provide Celine Dion with the meal ticket that will ensure her grandkids will never go hungry. Jack can’t come back though, can he, Rose? Because you hogged the entire door. I digress…
- Brokeback Mountain’s immortal line “I wish I knew how to quit you”, uttered by ice cream eating recent dumpees globally for over a decade now. Ang Lee owes so much of his career to that best director Oscar for Sense and Sensibility.
So, you get the idea. We could continue, but we have books to discuss. Onwards…
Poor Charlotte Lucas, stuck with the horrific Mr Collins in a life forever surrounded by Rosings, Lady Catherine De Burgh and her almost invisible, dull as dishwater daughter, Anne. We can imagine how pitiful her life must be, right? Or, perhaps not, as this modern follow-up to Pride and Prejudice suggests.
First up, we get Charlotte’s side of the story about her acceptance of Mr Collins’ proposal. Charlotte was the supportive best friend who features in every single rom-com. She and Lizzie were best mates. But just because they were joined at the hip didn’t mean they agreed over everything and, as she now explains, as a woman with no money or hope of an income, she had to go her own way to protect herself and secure her future. She opted for practicality over love. A lot of us do it still when the old biological clock becomes deafening, to be fair. It’s really not such an outlandish thing to do.
In that light, Lizzie’s extreme judgement over Charlotte’s decision doesn’t make her a particularly great mate. In the book, we get a sneak peak into her and Darcy’s life – quite cool, Austen fans! – and how they all settle into their lives. The two women remain besties, as you’d expect.
After the wedding, Charlotte is properly excited about having her own house and garden, she gets on well with Mr Collins after chilling him out a bit, and Lady Catherine has her advantages, sending over loads of great food and items they couldn’t afford otherwise. Kids follow, and it turns out neither Charlotte nor Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne are quite as sensible and straightlaced as we first thought. This is such a lovely book, so original and brings nothing but joy and happiness to any Jane Austen fan. Sunday afternoon tea and blanket fodder for sure.
The Jane Austen Society
Chawton in Hampshire is a must-see if you’re the sort of Jane Austen fan who feels the need to tour the places she wrote about and was inspired by. Now, this book takes us there during a time spanning the late 1930s to post-war 1945, introducing us to eight lovely people tied to the village, in one way or another.
Chawton is described as your archetypal sleepy English village, à la Miss Marple, or Kate Winslet’s wee cottage in The Holiday. Characters include a farmer, a Hollywood star come for a pilgrimage, a lawyer, a doctor, a maid, and the daughter of the owner of Jane’s former home, Chawton Estate. The owner’s daughter, due to sexism etc, is due to inherit zero pounds and zero pence – she is a woman, after all. Instead, the estate is up for sale to the highest bidder, including the library, filled with untold Austen-related literary worth.
And thus, a society was formed to stop this heinous forsaking of the arts in favour of financial gain – thankfully a situation we do not have to worry about anymore (*Fleabag-esque look to camera). It’s a beautiful tale of grief and loss, forgiveness, love, friendship, sexism and pardon the pun, the importance of never judging a book by its cover.
As a Jane Austen fan, you’d be hard pushed to find fault with this. It delicately weaves the brilliance of Austen’s writing with real life situations that, while she had no way of foretelling them, were assisted by the posthumous guidance of her words. Another Sunday afternoon tea and blanket accessory. Only, on this Sunday, let’s make sure it’s raining outside while you’re cosy and have nowhere else to be.
What do we know about Jane’s family? Maybe you know more than me, but I didn’t know the first thing about Cassandra Austen, or the brothers, or the second wives and step-mothers – and I was delighted to find out. Miss Austen lets us do just that, from the village of Kintbury.
But as you might have guessed, reading Miss Austen takes a wee bit of concentration. Hornby handily assists us with a map of the village, where Jane stayed at the vicarage on and off over the years, probably completing Persuasion there.
Kintbury features in Austen’s life because her sister, Cassandra, was once engaged to Thomas Fowle, son of the vicar of Kintbury. Spoiler (not really, it’s public record), Thomas died when he and Cassandra were not yet married, and she spent the rest of her life honouring her pledge to him that she would never marry anyone else.
We pick up with Cassandra years after Jane’s death, when she’s an old woman returning to the Kintbury vicarage just as its being packed up for sale. You’ve guessed it – the owner died leaving only a mere daughter, who was being turfed out on her ear, as was the fashion if you were an unmarried lady in those days.
We’ve all moved house, so can imagine the reception the elderly Cassandra received turning up unannounced as they’re up to their ears in packing boxes (or chests, or whatever they used in 1840). But Cassandra needs to retrieve a bundle of Jane’s letters hidden somewhere in the house before it’s sold off, and she’s not going to risk the new owners finding and selling them first. Cassandra needs to do this one final thing for the sister she adored.
On the surface, this book is essentially about an old woman visiting a house to get some letters without anyone noticing; but the actual story within is wonderful. You feel like you get to know Jane and her life. You feel her inspiration for the books, and you can see straight away she has herself and Cassandra in mind as she dreams up Lizzie and Jane Bennett.
Once more, a perfectly lovely Sunday afternoon read accompanied by a blanket, a mug of tea, the rain outside, and this time, lets add a dog curled up at your feet snoozing away. Lovely stuff.
The Flock Book Club in October – Living in America
The American Dream doesn’t seem too dreamy for many nowadays. Yet so many people, every single day, remain desperate to get to the USA in search of its elusive freedom.
With retrieving the glory of the dream emerging as a high priority in November’s Trump v Biden Presidential election, we’re going red, white and blue by chatting about:
First up, I’m aware of the controversy surrounding this book and I am clearly absolutely unqualified to speak about whether this was Jeanine’s story to tell.
But I want to talk about Lydia and her 8-year-old son Luca and what she goes through to get him out of Mexico, away from a drug cartel who’ve just killed her entire family and are now coming for her and Luca. Lydia’s story of a desperate mother doing whatever it takes to protect her child is horrifyingly common, hugely relevant and, whatever questions it raises, this book does bring it to life, warts and all.
This was shortlisted for September’s Women’s Prize, and anyone following my Instagram knows I was rooting heavily for this book. It’s a tale that will make you mad with the injustice, but leave you standing firmly behind Ana, every step of the way, across every page, cheering her on.
She is forced, at 15, to marry a much older man who is travelling to New York. This is a great opportunity for her family as it means, via the American Dream, she can make lots of money to send back home to them. But then life happens, for better or worse, changing her forever.
Clap When You Land
This is the first YA book I’ve reviewed, though I didn’t realise it was meant for a Young Adult audience until after I’d read it. So, either my tastes are less mature than I thought, or young adults are far more mature than I am. Either way, I’m ok with it.
This is a dual narrative book, which may put some people off as it goes back and forth between two characters facing the same situation – the situation being a plane heading to the Dominican Republic from New York crashing and leaving no survivors. One of the victims had gone to New York to make a better life for himself and his family, who remained in the DR as he sent money back and spent each summer with them. Meanwhile, in New York for the rest of the year, he’d made himself a whole other family. These two daughters and two wives know nothing of each other’s existence, until his death, when everything hits the fan. Oooooh, popcorn….
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