by Jo Baker
Knopf, 2013. 352 pgs. Fiction
In general I tend to not be a huge fan of 'fan fiction' or spin offs from classic literature. But I had enough friends recommend Longbourn, that I decided to take chance, and I'm very glad I did. Longbourn is a revisionist retelling of Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', told from the perspective of Sarah, one of the housemaids. While this is certainly a riff on the 'upstairs downstairs' motif, Baker does a nice job with a historically accurate look at what life of a house servant was like during the 19th century; lots of laundry, cooking, emptying chamber pots, and little sleep.
The story mentions highlights from the 'Pride and Prejudice' plot, but does not follow it in great detail and instead takes you fully into the world of Sarah and her fellow servants, painting a somewhat darker background to the well loved story. Sarah's quiet world is turned around with the appearance of a mysterious new manservant who shows up out of the blue. Of course there is romance, and of course there is misunderstanding and mistakes, following the Austen tradition; but Baker, while writing in a style influenced by Austen still establishes her own distinct voice. I listened to the audio version and quite enjoyed it, the reader delivers and understated and polished performance.