Thursday 15 August 2013

Review! Longbourn by Jo Baker

The servants at Longbourn estate--only glancingly mentioned in Jane Austen's classic--take center stage in Jo Baker's lively, cunning new novel. Here are the Bennets as we have never known them: seen through the eyes of those scrubbing the floors, cooking the meals, emptying the chamber pots. Our heroine is Sarah, an orphaned housemaid beginning to chafe against the boundaries of her class. When the militia marches into town, a new footman arrives under mysterious circumstances, and Sarah finds herself the object of the attentions of an ambitious young former slave working at neighboring Netherfield Hall, the carefully choreographed world downstairs at Longbourn threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, up-ended. From the stern but soft-hearted housekeeper to the starry-eyed kitchen maid, these new characters come vividly to life in this already beloved world. Jo Baker shows us what Jane Austen wouldn't in a captivating, wonderfully evocative, moving work of fiction.

Review: wow! What a fabulous retelling! When I first heard about this book I thought it was a wonderful concept and knew that I would have to read it. Now I sometimes struggle with the language and lengthily descriptions in some of Austen's novels and was worried that I might struggle with this one but it was such an easy and compelling read, I had no problems whatsoever. The language, in fact was one of my favourite parts. The narration was in easy to follow English but the thing the servants said to on another and indeed the other characters in the novel, the Bennets, the Bingley folk were all as they would have been phrased at that time and I thought it gave a really good a balance! Some of the things Mrs Bennet or Mrs Hill said had me laughing out loud!

The characters in this novel were fabulous, such a good idea to feature these hard working and yet 

unseen characters from Pride and Prejudice! Sarah is the main character really and like a lot of books that I read, she is a young women who is hard working and wants good things for herself and so is prepared to work for them. She gets herself into a couple of romantic entanglements along the way, readers will be pleased to hear, and she really goes for the things she wants in life, even if it means things are going to be difficult for her. The relationship she has with Mrs Hill (a wonderfully formidable character) is a mother/daughter type and the relationship she has with the younger maid Polly is also like that only in this case, Sarah is the mother figure. 

She also has a good relationship with the two older Bennet girls which means that she does get to travel in this novel. This is not just a story about the everyday comings and goings in the Bennet household, there is a lot more that goes on below stairs than we realise. You get such a good feel for the pain the servants must have been in constantly tramping up and down the stairs, and the description of the aches and pain, and the chilblains are so realistic, you really get to feel their pain.

You learn more about the landscape surrounding Longbourn, the journeys to London, to Netherfield and eventually, of course, to Pemberley.  The novel is divided into three significant parts, the first two parts are mainly based at Longbourn, with a short journey into London, but the final part focuses slightly more on the story of the footman and how he came to be. I didn't find this part quite as enjoyable as the previous two sections, but the very end of this section is where Sarah goes to Pemberley with Elizabeth and this was really very enjoyable so made up for the rest of this part. It was an interesting choice to divide the book into parts like this but I think it really works, and each section is definitely separate from the last!

Overall this book really lived up to my expectations, exceeded them even. I found it a real page turner, the language is beautiful, the characters engaging and what a gorgeous cover too! I think that most readers will really enjoy this book, it does help to know the story of Pride and Prejudice but I don't think it is essential and you certainly don't have to be overly familiar with Austen and her work in order to fully enjoy this wonderful novel! A must buy!

You can order your copy of Longbourn by clicking on the cover picture!

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