Author: Jo Baker
Publisher: Doubleday / Transworld Publishing / Black Swan
Publish Date: 16 January 2014
Source: (digital) Newbooks Magazine
Genre: Historical Fiction
ISBN: 9780857522023 (p/b)
Rating: 4 out of 5
"If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields.
It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah's hands are chapped and bleeding. Domestic life below stairs, ruled tenderly and forcefully by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman smelling of the sea, and bearing secrets.
For in Georgian England, there is a world the young ladies in the drawing room will never know, a world of poverty, love, and brutal war."
...“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats", Sarah often thought, "she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them."...
This was a section from the opening chapter and I was immediately ensnared. I have not yet read Pride & Prejudice, and did wonder if I would be able to follow the meshing of story lines, but with writing this good I decided to give Longbourn the benefit of the doubt. I'm so glad I did. I do not believe it detracted from my enjoyment nor understanding of the characters or plot. I am very keen to read Jane Austin's classic and it has certainly been plucked from the 'books to read' pile and is now at the top destined for an earlier read.
Longbourn is an alternative retelling from 'downstairs', the servants points of view on the affairs of the privaliged lifestyle of the Bennets, and gives extensive insight into the servants gruelling exhaustible daily chores of cleaning and the never ending work involved in the running of the household.
The story is told in three volumes taking place over the same time period of the original story. The first two are mainly based at Longbourn concentrating on the feisty Sarah, the 17 year old orphan housemaid. The final volume focuses a little more on the history of James Smith the Footman, the newest addition to the servants quarters, and whose history is somewhat clouded in mystery. Other characters include, Polly another orphan housemaid, and Mrs Hill, the Head Housekeeper and Cook who is married to Mr Hill.
I absolutely loved Baker's style of writing. She has written an excellent historical tale with such depth of character development it evoked strong visual images in my head as I read. I found the characters to be believable and credible and was totally drawn into the world, if sometimes bleak and grim, that Baker so wonderfully portrayed.
Such a beautifully written book, I would have no reservations in recommending it to anyone interested in romantic classics and/or lovers of period dramas such as the current tv serialisation 'Downtown Abbey', or the classic 'Upstairs, Downstairs' tv series from the 70's. There is something for everyone, romance, intrigue, mystery, scandalous behaviour, dastardly deeds, doubt, distrust and expectations for a better future.
Book reading groups would have an enormous amount of enjoyment discussing the privaliged characters from the classic and this retelling about the poverty stricken, hardworking servants.
Disclosure: I received an e-review copy of Longbourn for an honest, unbiased review. It was a pleasure and I thank Newbooks Magazine for this opportunity.