Death Comes to Pemberley for the January BPL book club, I read Longbourn by Jo Baker. I wanted to get in the mood for the fan fiction book club choice set after the events of Pride and Prejudice by reading this 2013 favorite
On a side note, I mentioned Longbourn during the book discussion and one member of the group called me just to tell me that Jo Baker is now one of her favorite writers. She read 3 of her books in the last month, including Longbourn and loved them all.
Longbourn is very easy to book talk to patrons. It tells the story of P&P but only from the points of view of a few of the domestic servants. So everything unfolds as you know it will, but from a different vantage point. Plus, there is the added drama of parallel romances within the servants world too [there are 2, and one is quite scandalous, the other dovetails with Elizabeth and Darcy's travails].
This novel, as well as being just pure fun to read when paired with P&P, is also well done on its own. Even without a detailed knowledge of all of the plot points of the source material, a reader will be easily drawn into the story Baker crafts. The pacing is compelling and swift, especially when compared to P&P. The characters Baker has created are vibrant, fully rounded, and interesting. And some of the side plots are also very intriguing, including one involving Bingley's steward.
Baker has also built her story around the historical frame work of the time period; in fact, I found the historical issues she brings up to explore in more detail [such as the war, race relations, women's equality, class issues] much more compelling than how Austen treated them. Now much of this has to do with the fact that Baker has the benefit of historical distance, while Austen was critiquing her own time, which is much harder to do, but still, I found much enjoyment in how Baker worked the larger historical picture into her story.
Obviously the whole upstairs, downstairs thing is hugely popular right now too. This part of the story was great. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of how Pemberley was run. What it took to cook and clean for the Bennet family, and how they were transported everywhere. Baker incorporated these details into the story in a way that never bogged the pace down too.
The point I want to make in this review is that Longbourn was an excellent read on its own. I am not a huge fan of P&P as a novel, but I love the fact that it is the beginning of the Romantic Comedy as we know it today. I love the story, not the writing. By retelling Elizabeth and Darcy's story in a different way, having a mirrored love triangle with the servants, and by doing it all in a more modern style with a much quicker pace, I found Longbourn irresistible.
On the other hand, I know people who love, no worship is a better word choice here, P&P and those people were not as enamored with Longbourn. For them it was too different.
So, this book is a great sure bet for people who like [but don't love] P&P. It's a maybe for people who love Austen. But, it is also a good choice for readers who want good character centered, historical fiction with a domestic workers point of view.
Three Words That Describe This Book: Austen fan fiction, domestic workers, character centered
Readalikes: As I mentioned in my book discussion report on Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, you can click here for the Goodreads users’ list of the best Austen fan fiction.
And if you haven't read Pride and Prejudice yet, or just haven't read it in awhile, a side-by-side reading is pretty fun.
Obviously, there is a huge Downton Abbey connection here. There are many readalike options and lists you can find here.
Finally, for a few outside of the box suggestions, here are some books that are also character centered, historical fiction that feature domestic workers but are set in a different time or place [because not all readers will want a British upstairs-downstairs readalike]:
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