Dec 062013
 

LongbournNot Quite Jane Austen, Not Quite Downton Abbey

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 article-2043939-0DDEFE7900000578-116_634x415makes 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.

WARNING:

Some use of crude language, profanity, and violence.

CONCLUSION:

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.

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  14 Responses to “Longbourn – Jo Baker”

  1.  

    I love love love love your comment about Elizabeth and Lady Sybil(very very very badly done indeed Lord Julian. Medical error?????? Sorry, rant over…doing off to cry in my Downton Abbey English Rose Tea!)!!!!

    I’m not sure I can read this book with the portrayal of Elizabeth. Another reviewer “soft pedaled”(my term) that flaw in the book. I can accept changes in roles and scenes…but showing my favorite characters in a negative light….never!

    •  

      Oh yes! Feel free to rant! I still don’t think I’ve recovered from poor Lady Sybil and Matthew!

      I think the author was trying to portray vast separation between servant and not, but given what we know of Elizabeth, I don’t think she would be the type to treat servants as any less than equals.

  2.  

    It’ s a pity to find some bitter aspects in Lizzy’ s character :'(
    Thanks for the advice.

  3.  

    Interesting take on things. I look forward to reading this one. I’m full of curiosity at the idea of the known characters seen differently from the eyes of the servants.

    •  

      It was interesting to see what the servants thought of the other characters as well as the events! For example, I enjoyed seeing what work was involved for the servants in regards to the Netherfield Ball – quite a different perspective!

  4.  

    A very interesting and balanced review. I’ve been somewhat intrigued by this one, just because it’s a pretty unique POV in Austenesque. Despite the less than satisfying portrayal of Elizabeth, I’d still read it for that reason. My library copy came in a couple days before I moved to SC, and I was too busy running around to read it. :/

    •  

      Thank you, Monica! I hope you get to track down a copy and read it! There is a lot to enjoy with this story, I’m looking forward to seeing what the movie adaptation looks like!

  5.  

    I’ve read some mixed reviews about this so although I plan on reading it I’m not sure about it. I’d heard it doesn’t show Lizzy or Mr Bennet in a good light. I don’t see the need to show. Lizzy negatively, and she seems like a compassionate person, I can’t see her being unkind or thoughtless to the servants. I plan on getting this one from the library sometime though.

    •  

      I kinda of saw there were mixed reviews, which made me even more determined to read it and form my own opinion, Ceri. You are right about Mr. Bennet, he is even more negligent and lax in doing his duty. But that didn’t bother me as much Lizzy. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you do get to read it, Ceri!

  6.  

    I’ve purchased it and read it. I concur with your review. I’m quite the fan of minor character books, however I eventually divorced it from P&P in my mind and gave myself license to read it stand alone. My biggest negative is the way the book closes. Like the author had to rush to print or somthing.

    •  

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Stephanie! Yes, the minor character stories I’ve read thus far have been brilliant! I kind of was expecting a little bit more with this one. Definitely agree with you about the closing. It seemed hurried.

  7.  

    I’ve never watched Downton Abbey, so I couldn’t make any comparisons on that front. I am interested in reading this because of the different perspectives, but I know I’m not going to be happy with the portrayal of Elizabeth. Still, I’m curious!

  8.  

    I’m reading this one now and loving it. I like that it’s just a really good story, and there are a few familiar P&P faces thrown in every now and then. I’m (really) new to JAFF (and P&P too actually) so maybe that has an impact on how I’m judging the stories. Anything and everything with the slightest connection is delighting me so far.

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