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Longbourne by Jo Baker

Longbourn is the fifth novel by Jo Baker; however, I think it's one of only two that are available in the U.S.  I started this book back in May and only recently finished it (finally, I know, right) because I got waylaid by classes.  There were about three weeks during the second class that I only had time for work work and school work because that professor crammed 95% of the work into the first three weeks of class.

You guys, I loved this book, and you have to read it if you haven't already!  Depending on how long or how regularly you've been reading this blog, you may or may not know of my affinity for English period dramas and Jane Austen adaptations in particular (okay, it might be more accurately characterized as an obsession, but who cares?).  Longbourn is in the vein of Pride and Prejudice fiction--there are numerous sequels to and re-imaginings of the famous Jane Austen novel in the form of more novels and short stories.  Longbourn is neither a sequel nor a re-imagining.  Rather Longbourn is Pride and Prejudice as witnessed and told through the eyes of the servants of Longbourn manor.

Sarah, an orphaned maid, works under Mrs. Hill, the Bennets' housekeeper, having been trained up by Mrs. Hill from the age of six when she joined the household.  Mr. Hill, the butler, Mrs. Hill, Sarah, and Polly, the young girl more recently added as a maid at Longbourn have been passing the mundanity of their daily work in a country idle until the arrival of a mysterious man whom Mr. Bennet hires on as a footman.  However, Sarah longs for something more--though she barely remembers her home life prior to joining the Bennet household, she knows she was happy and loved there.  And Sarah longs for love, a husband and a family of her own and a life not spent tending to the needs and whims of others, always at the mercy and whim of a master.

The arrival of the aforementioned mysterious stranger, James Smith, a mysterious wanderer with secrets and scars of his own, shakes up both Sarah and the household below stairs.  Though Sarah turns James' head, he can't afford to establish connections or form attachments with anyone or put down roots anywhere because of what he's running from and because he might have to up and leave at anytime unexpectedly in the middle of the night.  James has nothing to offer anyone in the way of a future as his wife because he will always only ever have nothing, and he has no hopes of ever having any prospects in the future.

A chance encounter with Ptolemy Bingley, the handsome, charming, mulatto footman in the employ of Mr. Charles Bingley, the wealthy bachelor leasing nearby Netherfield, throws Sarah for a loop with the possibility of what could be: achieving her dreams, living a different life.  This hope is a heady thing for Sarah, and it clouds her judgement.  Ptolemy may be exciting, friendly and may have aspirations for a better life.  He even may have an interest in Sarah--and be more open to developing that interest than is James.  But does Ptolemy feel for Sarah what she thinks she feels for him?  Indeed is what Sarah feels for Ptolemy the love that she longs for? Or is he merely an ill suited substitute for the affections of someone who isn't available?

James is kind and caring and finally has a stable, warm place to live in the Bennet household as well as sufficient work to keep him busy.  And then there's Sarah with whom he can no longer avoid forming an attachment or deny feeling an attraction for.  However, James has nothing to offer Sarah as far as a future and will never have anything to offer her, and so the two must settle for what they have at Longbourn.  And that's enough for them, until Wickham's snake-like charms, insidious manipulations, and idle threats destroy what little happiness James and Sarah have made for themselves.

Any Jane Austen fan will love this book.  Even if you're not a Jane Austen fan, if you like historical fiction, I think you would enjoy this book.  It's lovely, well written, and the story sucks you in as the pages fly by.  There is some suspense concerning the secrets some characters are hiding and what the consequences will be if and when these secrets are revealed.  And Wickham.  I still hate the man.  In this book it's as if he cannot stand to see James happy in his position as footman and must do everything in his power to get under his skin and ruin it.

Some random thoughts I have:

--Mr. Bennet is a do nothing good for nothing coward concerned only with appearances, as in one must appear respectable and as long as one appears respectable that is all that matters as opposed to acting respectable in one's life and towards one's family and employees.

--Mrs. Bennet is a laudanum sipping fool prone to histrionics.

--Colonel Forster needs to get over himself.

--Wickham ruins everything.  Why can't someone flog him?  Also he screws over both the Bennets and some of the servants (and would have fiddled with Polly too but for the grace of God or Jo Baker and the protection of James and Sarah).  And THAT IS NOT OKAY.  Especially the part where he screwed over the servants.

--If James doesn't come back to Longbourn by the end of this book, I will never forgive Jo Baker.

--At different points in this book I really, really wanted to re-watch Pride & Prejudice for the seventh or tenth time.


--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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