Release Date: October 8, 2013
Publisher: Random House | Knopf
Pages: 352 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads
Summary (from Goodreads)
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them.
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants' hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocable, upended.
Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen's classic - into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars - and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.
Cassie and I were chatting about our love for adult fiction, and we wanted to figure out a way to really highlight that love with a new feature. So, we're bringing you adult fiction reviews where we highlight five factors: The Frame (Setting), The Flow (Plot), The Faces (Characters), The Function (Writing Overall) and The Feelings (Relationships).
Each of our posts will highlight our own thoughts on each of the five factors, so you can see side-by-side how our opinions stack up. Then, it all culminates in The Finale where we jointly share our overall feelings on the book with a rating that helps you find out how this book factors into our favorites pile.
As much as I love Pride and Prejudice (and many associated spin-offs), it was actually Cassie who suggested this book for our second edition of Favorite Factor. I was really intrigued by the idea of a book set during Pride and Prejudice, but focusing on the characters and events of "downstairs." And I'm happy to report that the combined setting of Regency England + servants life/tasks/etc. was so well done! The time period leapt off the page, just from the way things were described and the tasks that the servants performed. While it could have been separated from the Pride and Prejudice connection, I actually thought that added to my enjoyment of the book. I loved seeing so much more of what might have been going on in my favorite book - and seeing the way it corresponded with that story.
I will be honest and say that the book started off a little slow for me. It's separated into three volumes (like Pride and Prejudice) and there wasn't a ton going on in the first volume. It really set the scene and introduced the characters, but it wasn't the most engaging part of the book. I enjoyed it, but it didn't have me turning the pages with excitement. However, it definitely picked up in volume two. I couldn't put it down after that part! It wasn't that there was a lot more action - the story just started to get more interesting.
As far as the plot itself, I really loved it! I liked that the plot intersected with Pride and Prejudice, but that it also distinguished itself from that book. There was romance, scandal and intrigue downstairs, too. In fact, I thought the book got better and became a more enjoyable read as the servants developed their own stories. That was what got me hooked on this book!
I loved these characters so much! Now, if you're reading this expecting to see a lot of your favorite characters from Pride and Prejudice, you might be a little disappointed. Those characters don't actually play a huge role in this book. Yes, they exist in this world and do make appearances, but they aren't what really shine in this story. What made me fall in love with Longbourn was the servants who populate it. I loved the main housemaid, the mysterious new footman, and the house manager. There are additional characters I enjoyed, but those three were definitely my favorites.
I thought Longbourn was really well written. Despite the minor pacing issues I previously mentioned, I found so much to enjoy about Baker's writing. I thought it fit the time period really well, and it didn't try to match Austen's tone or wit. Instead, it just complemented the world she'd created and added its own perspective on that time period and those events.
I hate when I read a Pride and Prejudice spin-off that either feels too modern or like it's trying too hard to mimic Austen. Longbourn really hit out of the park in that regard. It was a unique angle that felt new and interesting. I think it would have worked as a story with or without the Pride and Prejudice connection, but I felt that tie-in really made it come alive for me.
This was absolutely, completely the best part of this book for me. The relationships between the servants themselves and between the servants and the Bennets made me fall in love with this book. There wasn't as much of a relational aspect in the first volume, which likely contributed to why it didn't work quite as well for me. But once Baker started introducing new relationships and focusing on that angle, it really took off.
I loved that there were so many different kinds of relationships in this book - employer/employee, co-workers (almost sisterly), daughter/mother figure and even a romance! The romance was actually my very favorite part of the book, but there were still so many other interactions that had me falling in love with this book.
Me: So, let me start with the question of the hour. Can you see now why I told you that you HAD to read Pride & Prejudice before you were allowed to read Longbourn?
Cass: Oh my goodness yes!! There is NO WAY I would appreciate nor understand Longbourn without reading P&P!
Me: Agree! I think the book is that much richer of a read if you have already experienced P&P. The characters from P&P don't play a HUGE role in this book, but I still think you have to know what happens in that book to fully appreciate everything that happens in this one.
Cass: Absolutely. You'd just simply miss out on so many things going on otherwise.
Me: Now, I've seen some reviews suggest that this book should have been written without the P&P connection - just as a simple belowstairs story. Thoughts on that?
Cass: Meh. I think that it still would have been great, I have a LOT of faith in Jo Baker after this novel, BUT I think that how it WAS done with including P&P was perfect. What do you think?
Me: I agree! I think that it would have been an enjoyable story either way, especially since the events of P&P weren't the focus of this story, but I still think it was just perfect the way it was done. I loved that connection - and feeling like I was getting a "behind-the-scenes" peek at my favorite book. So, what's your overall feeling about the book? I think I can guess but I'll have you spell it out for the sake of our readers!
Cass: Hahaha, my final reaction is - READ THIS BOOK. It is beautiful, and heart-wrenching and bold, and just about damn near perfect. SPEND THOSE GIFTCARDS LADIES AND GENTS. Buy it! And Hannah, if you'd do the honors and give YOUR final thought?
Me: I absolutely, 100% agree with everything you said. I could not put this book down once I got into it, and I just fell in love with everything about it. I'm really excited that this gets a stamp of ABSOLUTE FAVORITE from me!
Cass: Same from me! Our second book was DEFINITELY a success! Can we hope the same from our next? ;)
Me: I'm definitely hoping so! But either way, people, GO BUY THIS BOOK.
Cass: RIGHT NOW.
- The Consensus -
Don't forget to check out Cassie's thoughts!