Jo Baker’s newest novel, Longbourn, is neither a sequel or prequel to the beloved Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Rather, it is designed to provide another side to the narrative, allowing the reader to experience the lives of the servants in the Bennet household. The story follows Sarah, the housemaid, primarily and the changes downstairs brought on by the arrival of a new manservant.
While Baker’s writing mimics that of Austen and there are several links to the characters of Pride and Prejudice, Baker’s work is clearly a modern piece. It deals with many issues (homosexuality, racism, and women’s rights to name a few) which were largely ignored in Austen’s works. Bringing light to all of this issues in such a brief work seems more like a statement rather than something which contributes to the quality of the narrative.
The novel starts of strongly and fairly predictably, mirroring Sarah’s reactions to the new manservant with Elizabeth’s initial impressions of Mr. Darcy. From there, Baker quickly loses the Austen quality and the book becomes more like a summer paperback than a tome of great literature.
Available from Knopf, $16.00