Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Behind the scenes of Pride & Prejudice, the sudden hiring of a new groom brings questions as well as assistance to Longbourn’s servants, and Mrs. Hill’s instant welcome of James does nothing to assuage Sarah’s suspicions.

I am very, very picky about my Pride & Prejudice spin-offs, but Longbourn was such a wonderful book, and I honestly believe that it makes a perfect complement to the original! It made me think about so many things that I probably never would have considered by myself, but which made perfect sense to me once I did: the servants’ anxiety over impressing Mr. Collins; Lizzy and Jane’s absent-minded dismissiveness over a matter that seemed trivial to them, but was a serious concern for Sarah; the genuinely threatening feeling every time Wickham interacted with Polly or James…

I really came to love Baker’s interpretations of these characters who are barely footnotes in Pride & Prejudice… The relationships that they shared with each other, and with the Bennet family, were all fascinating, and showcased very different facets of the Bennets’ personalities than I’m used to seeing, especially in the cases of Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, who were much more sympathetically portrayed than I’m used to, but without changing any of the characteristics that Austen gave them.

And the main storyline, though moving alongside the events of Pride & Prejudice, benefited from being entirely its own, and was incredibly compelling, especially as it went on. And although I was initially concerned that Sarah’s relationships with James and another character called Ptolemy were going to parallel Lizzy’s with Darcy and Wickham, I was pleased to be proved wrong not far into the book. The more I think back on this book, the more I respect the way that Baker was able to weave Pride & Prejudice into the background of what is essentially an entirely original story, without rehashing too much of Austen’s original work. (Though, on that note, I should say that readers who are already very familiar with Pride & Prejudice will probably get a lot more out of Longbourn than those who aren’t.)

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