I did not like this book. Sorry.
First of all, several people describe it as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice and i think that's really misleading. This book has little to do with P&P and that was disappointing to me. Just as the servants were in the background of P&P, P&P was in the background of Longbourn. That makes sense with P&P, but is problematic in the case of Longbourn because its huge draw is the fact that it is a "retelling of P&P".
I did like simply thinking about the servants and all they had to go through to allow the wealthy to live their lives of luxury. The line on the inside cover was probably my favorite in the whole book: "If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them."
However, they seemed to have very modern attitudes, which is a fault that many TV shows, movies and books contain these days. For example, it seemed unlikely that the servants would dwell so much on the dirty tasks they had to do. If that was your job and life, thinking about how much you hate it all the time would only make your life miserable. I just think more of them would have accepted that that's the way things were.
I didn't really care about any of the characters. Especially not James, despite so much of the book being spent trying to convince me that i desperately needed to know what happened in his past. When he disappeared, i really couldn't have cared less whether he was dead or alive, happy or miserable.
Baker definitely added some grit to the story. Plenty of details about human waste as well as mentions of masturbation, homosexuality and adultery. I wasn't a fan of all that. And the Bennets (except Mary) are portrayed so negatively. Even Jane. Sweet Jane. It's like we're supposed to scorn the Bennet family for employing servants period.
I didn't appreciate the secret illegitimate son added to Mr. Bennet's backstory. I did, however, approve of the addition of Mrs. Bennet's miscarriage. That's definitely something that could easily have happened before the events of P&P. I also think it realistic that Wickham would have taken advantage of the maids, so i didn't mind that addition.
I did like the research that went into Longbourn and that Baker was careful to make sure the timeline lined up. I just think that the whole thing fell short of what it could have been. It was a good idea, but poorly executed.
*Review written on June 8, 2015.*
Book Riot Challenge Item: A Historical Fiction Set Before 1900
I think the people who dislike this book because they don't like the way Elizabeth or other Bennets act in it really need to venture out of their protective bubble.
There's a reason the characters in Longbourn are mentioned only in passing in [book:Pride and Prejudice|1885]: it's because the upper classes barely noticed that the servant class existed. The portrayal of the Bennets in this book seems perfectly in line with their portrayal in the book; they are kind to the servants, they are not monsters, but they have a sense of entitlement -- which is barely noticed when the story is told from their perspective, but which rankles a bit when you see it through the eyes of those who must work to make sure the Bennets continue to receive what they feel entitled to, whether it is new shoe roses despite the rain or three warm meals each day.
Although I consider myself a Jane Austen fan and I like the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, I get easily irritated by the Jane-ites that fawn over the romance in the books as though Austen was merely a writer of Harlequins and not a woman who was attempting to critique the society in which she lived even as she upheld it. And I have limited patience for books such as [book:Austenland|248483] and [book:The Jane Austen Book Club|2152] that seem fixated on "cute-sy-fying" Austen.
What I loved about Longbourn is that it brought Regency England back down to earth. There are cold mornings, chamber pots to be emptied, a war in Spain, wealth that is acquired through connections with the slave trade. This should not "tarnish" our view of the original works but instead deepen it with a more complete appreciation of their full context. This book is rich in sensory and historical details and delves fully into the lives of those who are often considered disposable and forgettable by history -- and yes, by Austen herself, whether you like it or not.
Although it does have some similar themes to P&P, it is not too obvious, nor does it cripple itself by trying too hard to emulate the source material. At the same time, this book is eminently faithful to the original -- all the events are the same -- and only the perspectives are different. This time, the Bennets are in the background, and while this might be disappointing to those hoping to slather over a new take on Elizabeth and Darcy's love, I found it to be perfectly acceptable because the main characters here are fully realized enough that we don't need to rely on an old, beloved story to make it through. I also appreciated that, because this book was written much later than P&P, it could more fully explore issues that would have been improper to write about then, such as just how creepy Wickham might have been, what happened when children were born out of wedlock, etc.
It was a little slow to start, and I found my interest waning in the section about James near the end, which took the action away from the core group of women we had been following for the rest of the book. But it is definitely a worthwhile read, especially if you enjoy well-rendered, intimate historical fiction, and whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to its source material.
A Country Road, A Tree is one of the most convincing novels that I have read that shows the suffering experienced during WW2. It takes place in France and is based on the life of Samuel Beckett. At no point in the novel is the main character named although other characters are.
I knew nothing at all about Samuel Beckett and I had no idea when I started reading that the novel was based on him. I noticed a couple of reviews that mentioned it was in the Author’s note which my proof copy did not have. So for me the novel was just about people struggling to survive the war years experiencing hunger, danger, loss and betrayal alongside devotion and lifelong friendship.
At times it was difficult to read, there is no glamorizing of events here. You read about overcrowded railway stations with not enough trains. People moving across France with the possessions that they can carry. They are hungry, dreaming about what they would like to eat most whilst others who aren’t as worried are feeding their dogs black market ham. When friends are taken away by police they decide that they have to do more to help and get involved with the resistance.
It wasn’t all gloom. The relationship between the characters in the novel, especially Samuel and Suzanne was lovely to read. I felt that they were devoted to each other but at times she felt frustrated by him especially when he gave away much needed items or placed them in danger.
Completely different to Longbourn, the previous novel but one that I enjoyed a lot more and I would like to thank Alison Barrow for my proof copy received.
Jo Baker is a literary chameleon. I have witnessed her slip into the words of two very different authors now and have been utterly convinced each time. In Longbourn, Baker gave us another perspective on Pride and Prejudice. In A Country Road, A Tree, Baker dips into the life and words of Samuel Beckett as he struggles to physically and mentally survive World War II. I hate to say it this way, considering the enormous amount of death and suffering the war brought, but this war might have the making of Beckett as a writer and thinker...
Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.