Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As 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.
AUDIOBOOK NARRATED BY ACTOR RICHARD ARMITAGE:
The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).
Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt: https://youtu.be/OJ1ACJluRi8
Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.
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So, if you hadn’t already noticed, I’m pretty down for all things Jane Austen. I definitely had The Jane Austen Society on my list of spring releases very early on after St. Martin’s Press catalogs came available on Edelweiss. Historical novel about the creation of the Jane Austen society? Sign me up. And then Laurel Ann of Austenprose invited me to not only be part of her incredible blog tour but also review the audiobook read by Richard (Freakin’) Armitage. Would I like to listen to Mr. Thornton read me a book? YES PLEASE. I already loved his narration of three of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels (Venetia, The Convenient Marriage, and Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle) so I was prepared to be delighted with this book.
Now, I haven’t finished it. I’m about 2-3 hours from the end of the audiobook. We can thank the coronavirus for disrupting my reading. I usually read audiobooks while commuting back and forth to work in the car/on the bus and, well, my commute right now is the distance from my French press in the kitchen to my desk in my home office, approximately 40 feet. What also makes this harder is that the app used for the audiobook galley doesn’t play through my car speakers as well as an inability to listen to fiction audiobooks while I’m working. So even though I planned some extra listening time with a review slot at the tail end of this blog tour, I’m a tad bit behind. But, oh, I do love this book.
The Jane Austen Society is a character-driven tale about the foundation of the real Jane Austen Society that saved Jane Austen’s Chawton cottage as a major landmark and site of literary pilgrimage. Each main character here – the town doctor, a laborer, a school teacher, a housemaid, a lawyer, a movie star, the last descendant of the Knight family – has their own tale of loss in this post-World War II setting. And underlying all that loss is an incredible love for the work of Jane Austen. This is the love of Austen that goes beyond admiration for the books. This is looking beyond the books to see themselves in the characters. And it’s a love that pushes them in an uphill battle to preserve a fast-disappearing legacy in a dying rural English town. (Note: I did check the Historical Note in a print copy of the book and all these characters and events are made up for this book. The Jane Austen Society is real, as are Jane Austen’s cottage and the Knight estate in Chawton, of course.)
Richard Armitage’s narration is perfect for this book. He is adept with accents, from the country accent of a farm laborer, to an upper class middle-aged woman, to a Scots auctioneer, to an American movie star. His reading speed is good – he doesn’t do that annoying thing where he pauses between sentences so the conversation between characters feels natural – and while he does feminize his voice a bit for the female characters it’s not a cloying falsetto. And when he has to provide the sexy voice of Mimi’s rich American boyfriend/fiancee/backer/whatever he thinks he is because he’s kind of a jerk…well, one of Armitage’s best voices in the Heyer books is whenever he gets to voice a rake. Yummy.
I will give a small content warning that grief is a major part of this book. Several characters lose spouses or family members. There is also a traumatic pregnancy loss and stillbirth, so if you are sensitive to that kind of event there are several chapters that deal with Adeline’s loss and grief at about the 25% mark (the birth itself is mostly kept off the page but it is described in medical terms).
For fun, Natalie Jenner put together a Spotify playlist! If you use Spotify, you can find it here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5Q1Vl17qyQQIvvPGeIPCkr?si=-iMhVz8uRk2v2mTdolrPdg. The playlist includes music from various film adaptions of Jane Austen’s books, as well as film scores by such incomparable artists as Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Rachel Portman, and Michael Nyman.
Now, I’m coming in at the end of the blog tour, but feel free to look back at all the different reviews and features (75 blogs!) linked at the bottom of the Austenprose review here.
Thanks so very, very much to Laurel Ann for inviting me to the blog tour and providing me with the opportunity to listen to and review this audiobook.
Dear FTC: I listened to a digital galley of the audiobook provided by the publisher.