I committed myself to a “Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge”, which has led me to read more Jane Austen fan fiction than I ever thought I’d read. (I hit the "Aficionada" status even, meaning I read 9-12 books.) Although most of it is quite lovely, a lot of it is just copies of Jane Austen. However, Longbourn by Jo Baker is standalone literature.
Jo Baker takes on the behind the scenes aspect of Pride and Prejudice to show what life is like below stairs in the Bennet household. The book is about a young servant, Sarah, and her desire to have a bigger life, while also following Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, and James, the new manservant. The book is not just another fan fiction, this is literature that just happens to encapsulate Miss Austen's masterpiece.
Sarah talks about the Bennets and we hear off hand, what is happening in the story of Pride and Prejudice in so far as how it affects the servants. The Gardeners have come to stay, meaning more laundry. The ladies want to go visiting, thus James must be dispatched to take them in the carriage. It is realistic and although the tasks may be mundane, the audience never feels lacking for material.
Every time I picked this novel up, I got wrapped up in the characters and setting. Baker is thorough, but not overly detailed, so the book continues to arrest your attention. Baker truly has a talent for storytelling. She twists her words into alluring sentences and, as is the way with a good storyteller, you forget you’re reading, but are instead locked in the narrative.
If you enjoyed Downton Abbey, this book is for you. Here are some other stories you may enjoy:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. About an elderly butler who wants to be the best at what he does. This was also made into a movie.
A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford is the autobiography of an English nanny who has cared for children for over 60 years.