For Pride and Prejudice fans, the name Longbourn is already familiar – it is the home of the illustrious Bennett family and their five unmarried daughters. We know them well, but do we know all the residents of Longbourn? In her latest novel, Jo Baker seeks to take us backstairs, into the lives of the servants of the house. There is Mr. and Mrs. Hill – Butler and Housekeeper/Cook, who generally run the household. There are the maids/serving girls, Sarah and Polly. And there is a mysterious newcomer – James Smith. It is Smith’s story and his effect on the household that holds center stage in this novel.
As exciting as Downton Abbey and as interesting as the Jane Austen book it is based on, Longbourn is a terrific work of historical fiction. And I’d like to emphasize historical fiction here. While Pride and Prejudice is centered around social commentary, I felt that Longbourn was not a parallel book in that regard. It could have been, but the author chose a different path. Also, while the Bennett family and the Pride and Prejudice story exist within this novel, it is only a backdrop and not necessarily intricately woven into Baker’s novel. There may be some Austen fans that are disappointed in that regard.
However, Longbourn stands alone as an excellent work. I enjoyed Baker’s descriptive prose as well as the fleshed out characters and wonderful story. Many thanks to Goodreads and Alfred A. Knopf publishing for sending me a review copy.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013