Jo Baker – Longbourn

After my last disastrous foray into alternative Pride and Prejudice interpretations, I swore I wouldn’t try another one for a long while! However, when I was trying to decide what to read, I saw this one sitting on my shelf since I bought it probably over a year ago, and the cover just drew me back in and I couldn’t resist.

And whereas the last one left me wishing I hadn’t even bothered, this one was quite the opposite! Beautifully written and a fantastic idea which set the book apart from others of its kind, I couldn’t put it down from start to finish.

Rather than just re-telling Austen’s story, or trying to twist it into something that it was never intended to be, Baker has imagined the story from the perspective of the household staff. During the first part of the book, I didn’t really see why it mattered that we were in Longbourn as the characters from P&P seemed to flit in and out only very briefly, but the story was much more complex than that and I came to understand perfectly the choices that the author had made.

When you read Pride and Prejudice, you’re so caught up in the beauty and majesty of it all that you don’t think about the other inconsequential characters who sit in the background and make everything possible. Poor Mrs Hill swept off her feet when a surprise guest like Mr Collins is announced, and poor Sarah the housemaid running back and forth from Longbourn to the post office in Meryton to post letters and pick them up (which happens way more often than you may remember).

Giving back story to characters who are hardly even mentioned by Austen could have gone either way, but Baker crafts them so intricately that you can’t imagine them ever having been another way. Poor Hill and the secrets she’s kept all her life which are suddenly dredged back up to the forefront with the arrival of James. And poor, poor James. The flashbacks that we get to the time he spent abroad (without giving away too many spoilers) made me want to sob with sympathy for him.

I think, though, that my favourite character was Sarah. We spend the most time with Sarah so we get to know her thoughts and feelings the best, and my heart just went out to her so many times. Every time it looked like she was going to finally end up happy, something happened to blow her off course. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, because if you’re a fan of Austen and P&P you’ll love this book immensely, I would highly recommend you giving it a try.


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