Longbourn by Jo Baker
Published Year: 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pride and Prejudice was only half the story
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them. "In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.
Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own."
I hesitated to read this book. I love Pride and Prejudice. I do. To the point that I'm basically ruined for anyone except my own personal Mr. Darcy. How could I settle for anything less? Anyway, I hesitated to read this book, because just like in The Help, there isn't going to be a very flattering view of the employers from the servants' perspective. There just usually isn't. So I hesitated, because I didn't want to change my opinion of my beloved characters. I wanted them firmly where I had them, and no changes. Largely, I was able to do this. There are a couple of things that obviously have some conflict with previously held images of characters, but mostly JB only glances over the characters from P&P. She creates entirely new characters and new stories and intertwines them occasionally together. My fearful self appreciated the little connections as possible approach JB took.
The dynamic belowstairs was really great to observe and I hope JB had just as much fun writing it. The reader is presented with these pretty eclectic group of characters that serve the Bennet family. I think their interactions really entertained me more than any of the individual characters. Often, Sarah could actually be annoying. She was very naive and innocent at the beginning, but after a few certain events was considered extremely worldly and knowledgeable. I just found the shift a little too dramatic to be believable.
My favorite character was James Smith. He had a very mysterious back story. He was quiet and withdrawn but always as polite as can be (which drove Sarah mad). His facade only cracked a couple of times, and they occurred in the best possible scenarios. I was rooting for him the whole time.
The writing style was not anything spectacular. There was some time jumps that were hard to follow, and the diction was at times strange. I had the feeling she was trying to make it sound as if it was written in the time it was set. It just fell flat for me. I was drawn into the story by the accumulation of different things, but the writing style wasn't able to captivate me in any way.
3 out of 5 stars.
Thought you ought to know:
Incidentally, this is my 1000th read book on goodreads!