BOOK REVIEW: Longbourn by Jo Baker
Genre: Literary, Historical Fiction
Most of us are familiar with the trials and tribulations of the Bennet sisters, from Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice classic, but what about those ghosts belowstairs? Longbourn is a clever, irresistible imagining of the lives of the Bennet family servants. Sarah is an orphan who spends her days cleaning, scrubbing, and washing the mud out of Elizabeth Bennet’s petticoats. She shares the domestic troubles with a young scullery maid, the business-like housekeeper/cook, and the handy man, but their relatively placid lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a new footman. Sarah, for one, will never be the same.
Longbourn charmed me. Examining lives from the servants perspective is a fairly popular thing to do these days (*ahem* Downtown Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs, etc.) but one way or another it works. It’s easy to feel sympathy for servants, because even though our own lives are so much easier than theirs probably were, we still do the same tasks every day. I mean, I may not be scrubbing the mud out of a petticoat by hand, but I’m squirting Shout onto my kids’ grass-stained and spaghetti’ed clothes so… kind of the same thing. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding…. but you get where I’m coming from, right?) My point is that it’s easy to sympathize with Sarah as the protagonist of the story, and sweet to see her fall in love.
If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you’ll get an extra kick out of Longbourn because of the mini-references to events in Pride and Prejudice and the alternative perspective on said events. It is so cleverly done that, if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice but you enjoy the whole ‘servants perspective’ theme, you’ll still love this book. The tidbits that make it fit into the story of the Bennet’s are just the icing on the cake. (That said, I do recommend that you read Pride and Prejudice–it’s a classic).
In general, if you enjoy literary or historical fiction, and if you enjoy classics in the Jane Austen vein, I think you’ll really enjoy Longbourn.
I loved it: 5 out of 5 stars