16 August, 2015

Longbourn by Jo Baker

This is a very different take on the Pride and prejudice story, in fact the Bennets only appear as incidental characters in this story of the servants of Longbourne house. Mrs. Hill has her hands full managing the staff that keep Longbourn running smoothly: the young housemaids, Sarah and Polly; the butler, Mr. Hill; and the mysterious new footman, James Smith, who bears a secret connection to Longbourn. Jo Baker reminds us that someone must have been up very early in the morning to lay the fires, empty the chamberpots, cook the meals and scrub the laundry. 

"If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them."

As we know from Jane Austen's masterpiece, the Bennet family’s respectable but rundown estate at Longbourn is under threat, destined to pass out of the family, since Mr. Bennet has no sons. Downstairs, the servants are worried too. Will the heir, Mr. Collins, bring in his own people and turn out the present staff?

There is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. Each person has their own  past or aspirations, and Baker vividly evokes the circumscribed lives of the lower classes in  Regency England, from trips in the rain to distant shops to the struggles of an infantryman in the Napoleonic Wars. She creates a vivid and believable world in which by comparison the Bennets seem pampered, oblivious, their dramas trivial.

This is a very easy book to keep on reading late into the night, the story was engrossing and drew me on. If you are familiar with Pride and prejudice, you will recognise the significant events in the story, but it is but a backdrop to the story of the servants. Highly recommended.

Title: Longbourn
Author: Jo Baker

Recommended by Anita S, Blockhouse Bay Library

Anita S reads widely and eclectically, but most often random non-fiction fact books, good general and teen fiction, (often dystopian future types), fantasy and sci-fi if they cover a new angle on something, kids books and... actually she'll take a look at most stuff. Books are great! She also loves art and illustration.

                                   

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