Monday, August 4, 2014

Adult Fiction Review: Longbourn

Linking up to Austen in August, hosted by Lost Generation Reader. Told you I love this event!

 'If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,' Sarah thought, 'she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.'

It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah's hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

Baker, Jo. (2013). [Genre: Literary fiction, austen adaptation]
Source: Own copy via Kindle
Longbourn is possibly my new favourite Jane Austen adaptation. And according to Goodreads I've read a few of them.

In Jo Baker's novel, Pride and Prejudice becomes the background to another story - the one going on 'below the stairs' in the Bennet household. Mr and Mrs Hill, the housekeepers -- Sarah and Polly, the housegirls -- and James the footman, become the starring characters (I believe Mrs Hill is the only one mentioned by name in P&P, though the existence of the other servants is alluded too).

Although Baker's writing, characterisation etc is all excellent, there was one thing in particular that made Longbourn stand out for me. The sheer cleverness of what Baker does with the story. It's stunningly true to the original. Where a meal is eaten in Pride and Predjudice, it is prepared in Longbourn. While the Bennett sisters are off to the ball, we see James attending them. All of Pride and Prejudice's major plot points are truly reflected and have their own major or minor repercussions to the storyline of Longbourn. What was especially great fun was when major plot points in the original were shrugged off as having no significance to the servants, while more minor points changed their own stories significantly. To me, this seems an accurate and very clever portrayal of the lives of servants in such a household.

Baker also uses her reflection of the original story to explore the characters of Pride and Prejudice in new ways. I don't think I've ever read such a believable portrayal of Mary's character, who Baker somehow manages to draw out of the shadows of her sister's story, but without making her a dominating force in Longbourn.

Don't let me make you think that Longbourn is nothing more than Pride and Prejudice from a different viewpoint however. The events of P&P are simply an extremely extremely well done undertone to a story that stands in its own right. The housegirl Sarah's growth as a character is extremely well played, as is the very complex character of Mrs Hill.

Well researched and beautifully played out, Longbourn is a joy to read. And will apparently soon be a film as well - hopefully in time for next years Austen in August! 4/5 stars


  1. This is the most positive review of Longbourn I've read. Makes me want to check it out perhaos, after all. :)

  2. Great review - you've got a doubter of adaptations, seriously thinking of giving this one a try :-)

    1. I love Austen adaptations, though am the first to admit there are some not so good ones out there

  3. Thanks for the review! I've been curious about this book for awhile. I don't think I will get to read it for Austen in August, but I may try some day.