This is a lovely piece of writing about a small group of people and what they know and are able to feel and say about themselves and each other. It's clean, calm, character-driven prose that gets you inside the head of each of the main characters.
We see the world through their eyes, amplified by the different things each of them gets from reading Austen and the different things they see in Austen's characters.
There's a lot of grief and pain and awkwardness but there is also a backdrop of hope.
The Jane Austen Society has just been formed but it's not a light-hearted let's-throw-a-party kind of thing, more a route for some seriously depressed people who each find solace in Jane Austen to achieve some sense of agency for themselves through engagement with the real world in a way that honours Austen.
It's a sombre book that feels real to me. Austen's books and her association with the village in which the main characters live are a source of hope. They offer the possiblity of community and perhaps happiness.
There are some great discussions of Austen between the characters. One of the most recent talks about what it must have been like to see people as clearly as Austen does with their sillinesses and their veniality and small pettinesses all on display and yet still be able to write about them with compassion.
I also find myself trying to line the characters up against the characters in Austen's novels, in a sort of Fantasy Football way.
I'm enjoying listening to Richard Armitage. His narration is a bonus added to an already good read.
I've just finished a chapter set in Hollywood in 1945 and I'm impressed.
The attention is on the obsessive pursuit of a successful actress, Mimi Harrison, who has a passion for Jane Austen, by a ruthless millionaire turned studio owner, Jack Leonard, whom she refuses to take to her bed.
I was fascinated to see how Jack, a man with an acute insight into the weaknesses of others but who avoids all introspection, and who is paying attention to Austen as a strategem for getting in Mimi's head, admires what he sees as Austen's attraction to bad boys. Jack never reads Austen's novels. He has a screenwriter write treatments of 'Sense and Sensibility' for him and finds himself admiring Willoughby and wondering why Austen gave him such a happy ending. Jack, of course, is a 1940's version of Austen's bad boys, but with a twist He has Wickam's passions and Darcy's self-discipline, a frightening combination,
There's also a scene where the studio head pulls a Harvey Weinstein on Mimi, who fends him off. The contrast between his attempt at rape and Jack Leonard's patient but relentless hunt for submission turns Jack from bad guy to something more complicated.
I'm five chapters into this book and it's not at all what I'd expected (which I now realise was something glib and light and instantly comforting).
The scope is broad, the pace is measured and the tone is sombre, almost melancholy. Everyone's story is edged with grief or the threat of grief.
Austen is their common thread, their room of refuge and her flawed characters, passionate, stubborn, blind to their own needs or the needs of others, are valued companions all the more welcome because they are guaranteed a happy ending.