by Jo Baker
read by Emma Fielding
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Content: There is some talk of sex, but it’s vague and not at all explicit. And some mild swear words. It’s in the general fiction section at the bookstore, mostly because that’s the way it’s marketed. If a 15 year old were interested, I’d give it to them.
This is, to be frank, Pride and Prejudice fanfiction. All the familiar settings — Longbourn, Pemberly, London — are there, as are the familiar characters — Lizzie, Jane, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Bingley and Wickham (Darcy not so much).The difference is that it’s really only the bare bones of the P&P and the story is told from the points of view of three servants: Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper; Sarah, a maid; and James, a footman.
It basically follows the plot arc of P&P, though the concerns are not the concerns of Lizzie and Jane. And, honestly, I was expecting to love visiting that story from the perspective of the downstairs help. However, I was in for a surprise: unlike Austen’s witty observations on human character, Longbourn is a very pedantic book: every day is get up, do the work, collapse in bed. It’s also a dirty book — literally, there’s dirt, blood, pig slop, mud, you name it; Baker doesn’t whitewash the 19th-century.
There’s a slight love triangle between Sarah, James and Mr. Bingley’s footman, and while it goes somewhere, it feels kind of superfluous. I never really connected with the help; Baker didn’t make me care about all the work they were doing, or how annoying Mrs. Bennett was, or what a creeper Wickham was. And so, when at the beginning of volume 4 (I think; listening to it kind of throws off those things), I got backstory on Mrs. Hill and James, I was more than annoyed. First, at the timing — why wait until most of the way through the book? — but secondly because Mrs. Hill and James were not who I cared about or was interested in.
And then it just kind of petered out at the end. Baker kept the story going past the end of P&P, through the marriage of Lizzie and Darcy and even later until everyone is Old. I didn’t care. I wanted to care, but I was just Tired of the story.
I finished it. But I’m thinking that I shouldn’t have. Which is too bad.
(A note on the reader: she was fine. She was interesting. But it wasn’t enough to make me really like the book.)