Audiobook Review: Longbourn

12 Feb

17380041If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.
 
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. 

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own. 

jo-bakerJo Baker was born in Lancashire. She was educated at Oxford and at Queen’s University, Belfast, where she completed a PhD on the work of the Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen. Her first novel, Offcomer, was published by William Heinemann in 2001. Her second book, The Mermaid’s Child, was published in August 2004. Jo Baker has also written for BBC Radio 4, and her short stories have been included in a number of anthologies. From 2001-2003 she was the Artistic Director of the Belfast Literary Festival. She lives in Belfast with her husband, the playwright and screenwriter Daragh Carville, and their son Daniel. The Telling is her third novel.

My Impressions:

I am not sure what Jane Austen’s reaction to Jo Baker’s Longbourn would be — amazed, appalled or approving. I think perhaps all three. Using the framework of Pride and Prejudice, the novel takes a look at the other side of Regency manners and morals. A perfect novel for fans of Jane Austen or Downton Abbey, Longbourn is a great addition to this Austenphile’s library.

All of your favorite and not so favorite characters from P&P are featured in Longbourn, but these major characters become supporting actors alongside the servants who work below stairs. It is housemaid Sarah along with footman James who are at the center of the action. Mrs. Hill is another player that has a major hand in the outcome of the story. A dirtier and grittier perspective is shared, as well as new insights into Austen’s own creation. Characters such as Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet are more sympathetic. Mr. Bennet is even weaker in his dealing with the household. Mr. Wickham, already villainous in P&P, is even more so in Longbourn. And the young ladies of the house are pretty much inconsequential, except for all the work they create for Sarah, Polly, and Mr. and Mrs. Hill.

I really liked this fresh approach to a retelling of such a beloved classic. Longbourn will make you think about real life in Regency England. It really was a time of strict class distinctions and differences. The war that dominated the time, but rarely mentioned in Austen’s works, is also explored. I read some negative reviews of this book that found the gritty descriptions and earthy subject matter objectionable. There is some profanity and sexual content; this is NOT a Christian novel. But I could overlook those things, because the book seems so real and honest.

I believe this is a must read (or listen in my case) for any fan of Jane Austen. The audiobook version is excellent. Emma Fielding does a wonderful job reading the novel. All in all a recommended read from me.

Recommended.

(I purchased the audiobook version from Audible. The opinions expressed are mine alone.)

To purchase a copy of Longbourn, click on the image below.

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