Monday, March 10, 2014

Longbourn

Longbourn is the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the perspective of the servants. It may seem like a gimmick but it's so well written that I think it was one of the best novels of the year in 2013. If I had written Longbourn it probably would have been an angry, unreadable, pseudo-Marxist screed, but Jo Baker is a much more even tempered character than I am and what she has done is to produce a satire on Pride and Prejudice that I think is almost as delightful as the original. The story of the two servant girls, their new footman, the housekeeper Mrs Hill, Mr Hill and their interactions with all the beloved characters in the book is told with grace and subtlety and eloquence. Baker mirrors the P&P central conceit with a clever one of her own with a few postmodern touches here and there. The nightmarish clothes washing scenes in Longbourn reminded me of Jack London's Martin Eden (a book nobody reads anymore?) and we are continually shown how precarious life must have been for England's poor in the early days of the nineteenth century before the Factory Acts, Child Labour laws and Poor Law Relief. We get the Napoleonic wars, the slave trade (there's a bit of Edward Said in there too) but like I say nothing TOO heavy. Jo Baker wants to tell a good story not to rant and rave about the coming revolution...
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As you may know P&P is one of my favourite novels and I'm pretty protective of the book, which is why I was not a fan of P&P& Zombies or even of PD James's Pemberley (although as I said in my review of that one, if I'm as sharp as PD James is at 91 (when she wrote it) I'll consider myself very blessed indeed). I listened to Longbourn as an audiobook and I loved it so much that I went out and bought the paperback and gave it to my missus. She liked it to so much that she passed it on to our 11 year old daughter (a Pride and Prejudice fan) who is currently reading it now.