Jane Austen Society
by Jenner, Natalie

A group of disparate bibliophiles bands together in the small English village of Chawton in the hopes of restoring the final home of Jane Austen, revealing their respective losses along the way. A first novel.

Natalie Jenner was born in England, raised in Canada, and graduated from the University of Toronto with consecutive degrees in English Literature and Law. She worked for decades in the legal industry and also founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. A lifelong devotee of all things Jane Austen, The Jane Austen Society is her first published novel.

*Starred Review* For decades, tourists arrived in the English village of Chawton, looking for evidence of Jane Austen in her last-known residence, the Knight family estate. But most villagers saw no reason for the fuss. Now in 1945, as England rebuilds after WWII, six longtime residents and two transplants find a sense of belonging and purpose through mutual appreciation of Austen's writings. Together they form the Jane Austen Society and take on the mission of preserving Austen's legacy before it's too late. Just like a story written by Austen herself, Jenner's first novel is brimming with charming moments, endearing characters, and nuanced relationships, all largely set within and reflecting the often intrusive atmosphere of a small country community. Readers won't need previous knowledge of Austen and her novels to enjoy this tale's slow revealing of secrets that build to a satisfying and dramatic ending, while devoted Austen fans will pore over these pages, savoring the deeper connections between the lives of Jenner's postwar characters and of Austen's creations. The pleasures are many in this clever tribute to the beloved and endlessly influential Austen and the English village tale. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

In the insular post-World War Two gloom of an English village, seven damaged people soldier on, heartened only by their shared enthusiasm for Jane Austen. Chawton, the village at the heart of this story, contains the small cottage Austen occupied before her death, and it's also a cauldron of repressed longing and regret worthy of a Victorian novel. James Knight, dying heir of the Knight estate, owns the cottage as well as a stately manor house. The embittered James has altered his will: Upon his death, his only child and caregiver, Frances, a reclusive spinster of 47, will be dispossessed and the estate entailed to the closest male relative. Frances and her father's lawyer, Andrew, were once in love, but James forced them apart. Adeline, a former schoolteacher, is pregnant and widowed—her husband died in combat in the war's closing days. Her physician, Dr. Gray, a widower who blames himself for his wife's accidental death, is too guilt-ridden to act on his attraction to Adeline. After she loses the baby, her Pride and Prejudice–style bantering with Dr. Gray gives way to distrust, and each flirts with morphine addict ion. "Sad, silent" Adam, who farms the estate, was introduced to Austen by a visiting American fan, Mimi, a Hollywood star, who, at 35, is about to be put out to pasture by a lecherous studio boss. Evie, compelled by circumstance to forego scholarly ambitions, is a housemaid for the Knights. She's been secretly cataloging every book in the manor's vast library and has discovered some potentially priceless Jane Austen artifacts. These lost souls, who have been misjudged by society and/or misjudge themselves, find healing through forming the titular society to preserve the cottage as a museum—as its real-life counterpart is today. More than a passing familiarity with Austen's work may be a prerequisite to fully appreciating this book—Austen's characters often seem more real to Jenner's characters than their own relatives and neighbors. But, thanks to Jenner's psychologically astute portrayals, the society founders themselves are very real and thoroughly sympathetic . Readers will root for these characters, wishing them Austen-worthy happy endings. Copyright Kirkus 2020 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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