Over the better part of a year, a hand-picked group of five women and one man meet to read and discuss Jane Austen's novels, in a book club with a deliberately limited shelf life - once they get through all the books, they won't have much of a reason to meet anymore. Founder Jocelyn, middle-aged breeder of Rhodesian Ridgeback hounds, brings together her oldest and best friend, Sylvia, recently separated from her husband after 32 years; Sylvia's lesbian daughter Allegra, also recently separated; elderly Bernadette, her godfather's ex-wife; Prudie, a married high-school French teacher; and Grigg, the lone male member of the group, whom Jocelyn met when they crossed paths at a hotel - she was there for a dog show, he for a science-fiction convention - and who has never read Austen before (which scandalizes the other members of the club) - largely as a distraction for Sylvia. Each section of the book ostensibly revolves around the novel being discussed by the group that month, but is really about what the club members are going through in their lives at that time, and the focus moves back and forth among all the club members.
No character really predominates over the others, but each club member is developed as an individual personality, although Bernadette is probably the least so. The shifts in character focus allow some events to be retold from different perspectives, which gives them interesting twists, but at the same time the narration is rather detached. It's been a very long time since I read any Jane Austen, so I'm not sure whether that's a deliberate choice to echo her style or not. There's not a lot of drama in the plot - the characters are basically living their lives, and experiencing relationship problems, deaths in the family, and other normal things - but I think that's pretty consistent with the Austen influence also. The writing is amusing but not brilliant, and none of the narrative twists are really unexpected. This is an enjoyable and quick read, and incorporates enough discussion of Austen's work for fans of her novels to appreciate - they might actually want more of it, though. The "discussion questions" after the epilogue are pretty funny, though, since each character "contributes" a set and their individual quirks are expressed by them.