Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jo Baker, Narr. Emma Fielding
Random House Audio
October, 2013

Longbourn had been on my radar for quite awhile but I was hesitant, having been disappointed in some Austen "tributes" I read in the past. When it was given a high recommendation from a friend I decided to give it a try on audio. It started a little slowly for me as I was not all that interested in the drudgery required to maintain a household with five daughters, a limited budget and not nearly enough staff. I was soon captivated by the voice of the principal
narrative voice; Sarah, an orphaned housemaid who was brought into the Longbourn household  at the age of seven. Brought up by Mrs. Hill, the cook and housekeeper, Sarah has tremendous curiosity about the world outside Longbourn, a desire to see it and an equal desire to not be discounted.

Longbourn begins to change when James Smith is hired on as a stableboy/footman/general man of work. James is only a little older than Sarah but is obviously well traveled and somewhat mysterious. Sarah is initially distrustful of James but drawn to him. Another new element enters when the Bingleys arrive in the neighborhood, bringing with them Ptolemy Bingley, former West Indian slave and now footman. Someone so exotic could only be attractive to Sarah as well. How Sarah's conflicting hopes are resolved form the heart of the story, against the backdrop of the familiar Pride and Prejudice story, and I have to admit that I was more than a little teary at the most satisfying conclusion of Longbourn. I also had more sympathy for Mrs. Bennett and less for Mr. Bennett!

Longbourn is beautifully written, bringing to vivid life an era that has been romanticized but had all the conflicts of a class-bound society. One also forgets that this was the era of the brutal Napoleonic Wars, but Jo Baker reminds us of it in a particularly stark fashion when she reveals the mystery of James Smith. I highly recommend Longbourn to readers of historical fiction and lovers of Jane Austen. 

RATING- 4.5 Stars

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