Longbourn joins the very long tradition of auxiliary Jane Austen novels and deftly moves to the head of the class. It is one of the better ones out there and MILES ahead of the hated “Austen novel tittle and monster X” books. The book succeeds largely because Jo Baker doesn’t try to ape Austen’s style or plot, she simply tells a story around the narrative structure of Pride and Prejudice. It’s a fairly compelling book that details the lives of the servants to the Bennet family.
The plot follows Sarah, an orphaned housemaid to the Bennet clan, as she goes about her duties during the time period that Jane and Elizabeth Bennet were meeting their future husbands as laid out in Pride and Prejudice. More then just a day to day life look though, Sarah finds romance and intrigue, as the inner lives of these ignored characters is explored. What I find most interesting is how the book lays out how life for the lower classes was quite different from that of even the ‘poor’ landed gentry like the Bennets.
As the novel follows the lives of the servants, the plot of Pride and Prejudice is simply the background noise around which the actual story is told and so the book never feels like a copy. This is one of the things I admire most about the book, that the well known story of Austen’s novel is so deftly woven around the story that Baker is telling. The ins and outs and mentions of minor plot points is skillfully done.
If I had one complaint it would be with the characterization of Wickham in this novel. Austen’s Wickham is a cad and a flirt. He is not in any way a good man, but Baker takes him to a completely different level of villainy and I’m not sure it’s completely accurate to his character. That being said, I think that the character, as portrayed by Baker, was common in the middle classes and so I can see the argument for why his character was so portrayed.
All in all, I think the book is one of the better additions to the Austen world that so many people have dipped into. It was a very enjoyable read.