It is a truth universally accepted…

…that Pride and Prejudice is a brilliant book,
…that people will always want to write and read sequels or AU versions of it
…that if I’m given a sequel or similar I’m going to devour it.

So whilst I was very definitely not going on Net Galley in June as soon as I heard that Transworld had made an e-ARC of Longbourn by Jo Baker available on there that resolution was gone. And it made for a really good weekend’s reading,

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields.

It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and bleeding. Domestic life below stairs, ruled tenderly and forcefully by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman smelling of the sea, and bearing secrets.

For in Georgian England, there is a world the young ladies in the drawing room will never know, a world of poverty, love, and brutal war.

In 2007 whilst on holiday I read the two book Pride and Prejudice sequel by Linda Berdoll – Mr Darcy Takes A Wife and Darcy and Elizabeth (I think they were published under different titles in other parts of the world). They were good. But they were also very unrealistic and didn’t feel like the original book. Their plot can basically be summed up as “Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet get married and have lots of sex.” They were described by the author as the books Jane Austen couldn’t have written. Whether or not she could have done I don’t know. But she never would have done. And I was put off hunting for more sequels no matter how much I’d loved the original.

Longbourn isn’t a Pride and Prejudice sequel. It’s the story told from the perspective of the servants. Mostly that of Sarah the housemaid who is the same age as Lizzy Bennet . Mr and Mrs Hill the butler and maid/cook are there too. And finally the other housemaid, a child who doesn’t know how old she is but thinks she might be 12 or 13. And who is forced to give up her name and be known as Polly because she shares her name with one of the Bennet sisters.

I think it’s unlikely Jane Austen would have been able to write this book, from what little I know of her I doubt she had the needed level of knowledge of servants lives. But reading it its easy to believe she could have written it.

In some ways the main action from Pride and Prejudice is irrelevant to Longbourn. It happens and it matters but there is so much more going on. It gets under the skin of its reader and makes you want to see Sarah succeed. See Polly get a chance to be a child, Mr Hill get the rest he deserves. And poor Mrs Hill get away from her mistress in time to stop the bread being ruined.

If you want another retelling and the chance to read more of the long suffering Mr Bennet and his wife and daughters you could try this book. But it’s not their story. If that’s all you want this might not be the book for you.

Like the original book Longbourn is a love story and one in which both pride and prejudice are key themes. It’s got a feisty heroine and a touch of the unknown. It’s so much more than that. And plans are already being made for a film.

If my review has made you long to read this then I’m glad. That was what I was like before my review request was approved. But you’ll have a long wait because it’s not scheduled for release until 15th August 2013. I promise it’ll be worth the wait though!

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