Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Jo Baker - Longbourn

'If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,' Sarah thought, 'she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.'
It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah's hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

Comment: Honestly I don't remember where I saw that this book would be interesting but since it was about the servant's POV of Pride and Prejudice, I had this fantasy idea that the story would focus on the servants, their experiences and troubles and the whole historical setting and rules and we would see glimpses of the Pride and Prejudice characters from afar, just to bear them in mind, but the story wouldn't stray to them. Right.....
In this retelling or reimagining or whatever re-something this is about Pride and Prejudice, we meet Sarah, one of the young servants that work at Longbourn, the Bennet's' house, and one of the ladies who cleans, fixes and arranges the Bennet sister's clothes, shoes, among other things. Sarah has a very tiring life but everything will change when the new footman is hired. Who is this new person, and is Sarah the only one who can see he's not a simple footman? But then a new owner buys the house next door and more people show up, then the officers stay in the nearest town and Sarah can't stop to deal with anything else besides her work and her worries. But there are secrets in Longbourn and will Sarah be able to do something about them before it's too late?
This is my second attempt in reading a book set in the same world as Pride and Prejudice, probably one of the books with romantic elements I love the most. I worship the book and loved re-reading it at every chance and it's still and will always remain one of the best I've read. So, I was wary of this retelling but at the same time I was curious to see how important servants really were, how would their lives matter to the ones who acted like it was so natural for them to just exist to serve them. I really thought the author would write a story about the servants, their lives and wishes with P&P in the background just acting as a starting point or a reference to develop any plot that might exist. I also dreamed about a fantasy romance where the servants would be cherished and devoted.
I think my problem was that the story touched a lot of P&P scenes and characters and they aren't presented the same way Jane Austen did. It's different, obviously on purpose to suit the author's intents, but I couldn't set aside what my opinion about the original is and how weird and annoying it was to see some things look grittier and changed here. I understand everything is a matter of perspective but I feel part of the plot was done on purpose to make us doubt and question and wonder about many details Jane Austen deliberately didn't put in the original and now here we are with a different take and having to weight what could matter more. I didn't like this part. Yes, ms Baker is a different author, different ideas and valid curse of work, but she used a lot of the original characters to support this story and many things she invented didn't have to exist if only she could have focused more on the servants themselves and not mainly their interaction with the Bennets or their upper class lives. Just my impression about it.
The servants were interesting. I liked Sarah although some of her impulsiveness at a certain point annoyed me because for a sensible and practical girl she acted rather reckless. I liked Polly the younger housemaid and Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. All the servants at Longbourn were captivating and I enjoyed knowing more about them. The new footman, James Smith is quite the surprise and he brings many secrets. Some one could even swallow because they were so realistic and added interest to his character, but in terms of personality he didn't seem to be as "alive" because his air time wasn't as explored as others, even when he was a key element to the whole thing. Perhaps his relationship with Sarah could have gotten center stage instead of all the interactions with the Bennet's lives instead!
There are several secrets revealed here or, should I say, developed creatively in the novel, not only to add flavor and interest but also to support the books' existence in the first place. Some of them were interesting, I was quite invested in knowing what they were and how important, but I think the impact of everything got loose in the middle of all the changes the author did to the original P&P characters and that was very distracting, to be honest.
The end was bittersweet for me because despite the HEA and the happy moments we can still see, too many things had happened, too many references to certain situations seemed to have a darker side which one can accept because a servant's live wasn't easy or their own, they had to answer to a lot and depend on others completely, but at the same time, I feel the purpose of making this a serious historical novel based on fictional characters was a bit too intense. Not that it was bad, the whole book has many points of interest and development but for me, this wasn't a pleasant melody on its whole. I liked many things but the ones I got annoyed at are too big to be ignored.
I think I'll avid adaptations and retellings of P&P from now on.
Grade: 5/10

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