Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: "Longbourn" by Jo Baker

"Longbourn" by Jo Baker
First published in 2013
352 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
(image source)

"Longbourn" is a delightful romp in the English countryside of Jane Austen, told through the eyes of servants working in the household of the Bennets of "Pride and Prejudice."

This book was dubbed as a re-telling of Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," but I was pleased to find that, instead, it's a sweet and lovely tale entirely its own that just happens to occur at the same time the events in "P&P" are taking place.

Sarah is one of two maids at Longbourn, her days spent alongside Mr. and Mrs. Hill and young Polly, cleaning, cooking, laundering, mending, emptying chamber pots and acquiring endless blisters. She longs to experience life outside the quiet countryside, fantasizes about up and leaving Longbourn and heading down the road to London, or even the sea.

While she doesn't get the travel she dreams of (at least not at first), her monotonous daily existence is livened up when not one but two interesting men find a way into her life. There's handsome, ambitious and worldly mulatto Ptolemy Bingley, footman to the Mr. Bingley; and James, a careworn but handsome hard worker with a secret bag of seashells and a dark past who is hired on as a footman and jack-of-all-trades at Longbourn.

"Longbourn" is a wonderful Regency love story that fits nicely with "Pride and Prejudice." It's a romance at its core, but Baker also has readers guessing about the secrets James is harboring and keeps us fascinated with the details of Sarah's seemingly mundane life of servantry and the wonderful sense of atmosphere. And of course there are cameos by the cast of "Pride and Prejudice," especially the kind and down-to-earth Elizabeth, the over-dramatic Mrs. Bennet and the wicked Mr. Wickham.

This was a fun and absorbing tale of the "downstairs" side of life in 1800s England. It took me about 75 pages to really get into the story, but then I was off and away in Hertfordshire, scrubbing floors, acquiring shoe roses in the pouring rain and daydreaming about London right alongside Sarah. Anyone who likes Jane Austen, historical fiction or "Downton Abbey" should give this novel a shot!

*One minor note of annoyance: Be prepared to read about umpteen things being compared to puppies. Apparently Jo Baker is a dog person!

*P.S. It appears "Longbourn" (like every decent book these days) will be made into a movie. I look forward it!

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