(Warning: The Following Review May Contain Ranting)
Downton Abbey has finally made the acquaintance of Jane Austen in Jo Baker’s Longbourn. Below stairs, Sarah and her fellow servants see to the daily running of the Longbourn household. They wash clothes, cook meals, and make the Bennet’s presentable for daily life. Day to day, the routine is much the same for Sarah. She does her work, sleeps exhaustedly, and wakes up the next day to wear herself out again. Every day flows into the other until the arrival of the mysterious James Smith.
James, the new footman, is hiding something and Sarah is intent on discovering his secret. While upstairs the girls fret about Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and the militia, the housekeeper tries to manage rising tensions between James, Sarah, and Bingley’s servant, Tol. With the new addition to the household, Longbourn and the people who live within it will never be the same.
Longbourn follows Pride and Prejudice event by event. Sarah helps the girls get ready for the Netherfield Ball and gives advice to Mr. Collins when he comes to visit. Basically, Longbourn provides a sister narrative to Pride and Prejudice that concerns itself solely with the stories of the Bennet’s staff. Although that may seem like a very interesting subject matter for a book, Jo Baker’s novel is not so wonderful as I, at least, expected it to be.
I liked this book quite a bit at the beginning but, eventually, there came a point where I was just fed up with it all. One of the major things that bothered me was that the author chose to focus more on historical facts than on character and plot. That just annoyed the heck out of me. I like historical fiction to a point, but when it seems as if the fictional narrative is secondary to the non-fictional facts, I begin to think the book would have been better served if the author had written it as a straight history book rather than as historical fiction. Longbourn was exactly that sort of book. If Jo Baker had writter a book on servants during the time of Jane Austen, I would have read that happily, but as a fiction book, it just bored me. About half way through, reading the book turned to slogging through it.
Of course, the historical minutia wasn’t the only problem for me. I hated the way the author presented Wickham. To me, he is a gold digging womanizer and not a pedophile. I really didn’t like that the author had him pursuing a twelve year old girl. It made him into too much of a mustache twirling villain. He’s a scumbag, no doubt about it, but I think the author went a bit too far. I don’t think Jane Austen would have approved.
And ANOTHER thing, I hope that the twist wasn’t supposed to be a twist because I guessed it from the very first moment a certain someone’s name was even mentioned. It was SO obvious. I can only hope the author was aware of the twist’s obviousness because it would be sad if she expected people to be surprised by it all.
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend Longbourn. Rereading Jane Austen or tracking down some Regency non-fiction would be preferable in my opinion. Also, there are plenty of interesting spin-offs and adaptations out there, and if you like historicals, I’d recommend trying Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict instead.