Thursday, July 3, 2014

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Imagine Pride and Prejudice from a different point of view – that’s exactly what Jo Baker does in her novel Longbourn.  The familiar story is told through the eyes of Longbourn’s servants: Sarah, an orphaned housemaid with a yearning for more out of life; and Mrs. Hill, the cook and housekeeper, who watches all while guarding her own secrets.

In a world marked by order and routine, Sarah and Mrs. Hill find themselves thrown for a loop when a stranger is hired as footman for the house.  James Smith, quiet and dedicated, looks to lose himself in work and avoid memories of his troubled past.  Sarah, at once intrigued and exasperated by James (and the events that brought him to Longbourn), finds herself also drawn to the handsome Ptolemy Bingley, the footman from Netherfield.  The closer they get, the more uneasy Mrs. Hill becomes, and the more the reluctant James begins to realize he has his own feelings for Sarah. 

While the events of Pride and Prejudice play out in the background, intertwining with and gently guiding the story along, the real focus is on the lives of those “downstairs.”  Some have called it Pride and Prejudice meets Downton Abbey, and I can’t say I disagree.  I found the story really engrossing – especially as a historical fiction and an Austen fan myself!  I couldn't put the book down.  I especially liked that Baker doesn’t sugarcoat some of the difficult realities facing people in that time period – it felt more real and made the characters more relatable and honest.  I’d definitely recommend this book to Austen fans (maybe not the faint of heart though), and fans of historical fiction, romance, and those just wanting a captivating read for the summer.

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