Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2014, 8:38 am
Longbourn is for fans of Jane Austen, "Pride and Prejudice" or "Downton Abbey." If, like me, you love all three, pick this one up immediately!
It can safely be said that Jane Austen and her collection of novels have inspired countless modern authors to reimagine, recreate and elaborate on not only the stories Jane wrote, but the life of Jane herself. This is evident in novels like Death Comes to Pemberley, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict or the wider-reaching Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I took a chance on one more Austen spin-off this year, and I loved it!
Longbourn, by Jo Baker, has all the romance and drama of Pride and Prejudice, but it also gives us insight into the reality of life downstairs at the Bennet estate. The book opens with an introduction to a day in the life of Sarah, a housemaid at Longbourn. She is faced with all the dirty laundry, hair pins and hand-me-down clothes that come along with keeping house in the mid-19th century. Fans of Downton Abbey will also recognize the conflicting upstairs-downstairs relationships, class struggles and scandal scattered throughout.
Baker clearly knows Pride and Prejudice well; each chapter begins with a short quote from the text, which allows die-hard Austen-ites to follow these new characters as their drama aligns with the original. However, Longbourn also seamlessly integrates issues of race, war and class that the Bennets may never have recognized.
What I liked most about this was following Sarah as she slowly became worldlier, learning through the Bennet girls, through a brief sojourn to London and through the other servants coming in and out of her life. The book is at its best when we are hearing things from Sarah's point of view. The audiobook, read by Emma Fielding, gives this reimagined household a quiet grace, while also losing some of that stiff upper lip as she follows characters through their journeys away from Austen's imagined world. If you're a fan of Jane Austen, but you don't want ANOTHER romance centered on Mr. Darcy, then Longbourn might be just what you're looking for.