Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Giveaway Win!
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Minor Character, Retelling
TIME FRAME: Covers the same timespan as Pride and Prejudice with a couple of months after
MAIN CHARACTERS: Sarah (maid), Polly (younger maid), Mr. and Mrs. Hill (butler and housekeeper), James Smith (new, mysterious footman), Ptolemy Bingley (footman at Netherfield)
WHY I WANTED TO READ THIS NOVEL: This book was described by many as a cross between Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey…enough said! 😉 In all seriousness, I love seeing our beloved Pride and Prejudice retold from a different perspective. Meeting and spending time with the servants of Longbourn greatly intrigued me.
WHAT I LOVED:
- Impressions of Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham: I loved seeing what the servants thought of these two Longbourn newcomers. Mr. Collins is their future master and at first they fear his disapproval. But once they meet him, rather than laugh at his ridiculousness, they feel pity and sympathy towards him and his lack of understanding and guidance. Wickham, on the other hand, they don’t give him any sympathy at all! Sarah, James, and Mrs. Hill know he’s a rat…they can smell it!
- Life Downstairs: Working from five in the morning to eleven at night, callouses and chilblains on your hands, never-ceasing list of chores and duties – Jo Baker did a remarkable job of depicting the life of a gentry servant. The authenticity or her depiction felt like she knew firsthand of their toils.
- Evocative Prose: This was my first time reading something by Jo Baker, her style of writing is very captivating and descriptive. With such vivid detail and tangible visuals, this novel easily lends itself to being made into a movie.
- Mrs. Hill: My favorite character in this novel was Mrs. Hill. Working for the Bennet’s since their nuptials, she has seen it all, suffered through it all with them. And unknown to mostly all who surround her, she is tormented by her own tragic pain and heartbreak. Such a strong, intelligent, and admirable character. I would have loved to have spent more time with her, seen more of the story from her perspective, and learn more of her thoughts and emotions.
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- The Portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet: I’m sure growing up with servants to take care of all your needs makes one become accustomed to their services and compliance. While Elizabeth shared her novels with Sarah and often offered her kind words, I was disappointed to see her treat Sarah with some selfish inconsideration and thoughtlessness. Elizabeth’s generous heart and sympathetic nature seemed to be missing in this novel. I see Elizabeth being akin to Lady Sybil, not Lady Mary!
- Our Sojourn into the Napoleonic Wars: About two-thirds through this tale we take a break from present day and travel back two years and experience some time on the battlefront in Spain and Portugal with the Bennet’s footman, James. While well-written and depicted in great detail, I must admit I was not very fond of these chapters. Maybe because they were just a tad too dark, too wretched, and too much removed from the world of Jane Austen.
- Scenes at Pemberley: I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say Sarah’s actions towards the end of the novel and Elizabeth’s and Mr. Darcy’s response to them didn’t ring true. Elizabeth, is again portrayed in an unfavorable light, and the resolution between Sarah and her hero just felt a little hurried and unsatisfying.
Some use of crude language, profanity, and violence.
In the end, this story did not feel much like a cross between Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. A more apropos description might be – the darker, grittier, and less “sparkling” side of Pride and Prejudice. With Longbourn, Jo Baker bravely picks up her pen and tackles the “guilt and misery” Jane Austen studiously avoided dwelling on in her novels.