07 October 2013

Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo BakerWhenever I'm asked to name my favorite book, my mind goes blank. It's kind of like asking a parent to name her favorite child: each one is the best in his or her own way. If forced to choose, I usually say Pride & Prejudice because I do love it, and most people are familiar with the story (usually through the many movie versions).

If you've read Jane Austen's classic novel, then you might remember some of the small staff at the Bennets' family estate, Longbourn. Have you ever wondered about their lives? Author Jo Baker did and provides us with the downstairs-eye-view of the Bennet girls' courtships in her new novel, Longbourn.

The focus of Longbourn is on the five principal servants for the manor house. Besides getting an inside look at the management of Longbourn, we learn the interesting back story for the formidable Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, and her complex relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Sarah, the under maid, plays a central role, and through her we discover just how difficult it was to be in service at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Fans of Pride & Prejudice (like me) will recognize the details that point to the classic novel. For example, we get to know Mr. Collins from the maids' perspectives rather than from the Bennet sisters'. Baker doesn't re-create the proposal scene; instead, she lets us see the staff's reaction when they learn Lizzy has refused her cousin. Thus Longbourn is not a retelling of Austen's work; it's about the secondary world that moves parallel to the lives of the privileged ladies and gentlemen. In fact, the familiar events of Pride & Prejudice are introduced only when they specifically affect the servants.

In Longbourn, Jo Baker examines the very different opportunities and choices available to young women who go into service compared to those whose fathers inherited estates. Although the novel will appeal most to readers who are familiar with Pride & Prejudice, anyone with an interest in nineteenth-century life or who loved the movies based on Austen's novels will enjoy getting to know the people who keep Longbourn running.

Although I read the first two thirds of Longbourn in print, I finished the novel by listening to the unabridged audiobook edition (Random House Audio; 13 hr, 31 min), read by Emma Fielding. Fielding's performance was wonderfully expressive, and her light British accent added to the ambiance of the novel. Listeners will find themselves immediately drawn into the story, thanks to Fielding's narration.

Random House / A. A. Knopf, 2013
ISBN-13: 9780385351232
Source: Review (both print & audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

11 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 10/7/13, 7:10 AM  

I do hope to read this one; glad u enjoyed it.

(Diane) bookchickdi 10/7/13, 8:04 AM  

What a terrific review; I have been circling this book and now I must put it at the top of my TBR list.

bermudaonion 10/7/13, 9:25 AM  

I bet my mom would love this book!

Beth Hoffman 10/7/13, 10:08 AM  

One of my girlfriends is a nut for anything Jane Austen. She has a birthday coming up and I think this is the perfect gift!

Rita_h 10/7/13, 10:43 AM  

I love when authors think outside the box and write from a fresh perspective. Must be a great book.

Greg 10/7/13, 12:32 PM  

I've seen this one elsewhere and it had me curious. Thanks for the review, seems like it would be very interesting to see a familiar setting like this through the servants' eyes. Very interested in this now!

Daryl 10/7/13, 12:50 PM  

sounds like a good read .. my favorite book is usually the one i just finished

JoAnn 10/7/13, 5:07 PM  

Oh, this sounds like fun!!

Nise' 10/7/13, 9:24 PM  

I love the premise of this book and will keep my eye out for it.

Susan 10/7/13, 10:20 PM  

This is a lovely review, Beth. I usually avoid fiction about the Austen books other than the original books, which I love. This book is about the servants and their take on what happens, which is an interesting view. Definitely worth looking for and trying. Thanks so much, Beth!

Molly 10/18/13, 9:47 AM  

Fascinating idea!! I shall it add it to the ever-growing list...

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