Over the weekend, in a moment of what must have been insanity and desperation for reading material, I read some glowing reviews of Longbourn by Jo Baker and decided to download it from my library to read on my Nook. Reading novels based on Pride and Prejudice is a cardinal reading sin in my reading philosophy (i.e. I hates them), but like I said, moment of insanity.
At the beginning, I liked how Baker set the scene of Longbourn, the Bennet family’s country home. I could almost see the flocks of blackbirds flying up from the misty farm fields in the early summer morning when the servants rose. From what I could tell, the details of the life of a servant in that time period seemed accurate, and were very interesting. I liked the characters Baker created to make the Upstairs, Downstairs version of of P&P. And then, it all went south. Suddenly, it felt like what is a classic, beautiful book was being cast in a crude light. The parts when the actual Bennet family was featured pulled them into much darker roles than Jane Austen wrote for them, save Mary, Mr. Collins (who actually may invoke some sympathy in this novel), and Jane.The account of the main character, Sarah, a housemaid/lady’s maid, became more carnal as the book went on. The third volume that follows the history of the Bennet’s manservant is gory and terrifying to me, a reader who likes Victorian novels best of all and did not expect a war memoir wherein all the soldiers were absolute beasts.
I’m planning on shunning all memory of Longbourn in hopes that my original and much more deeply embedded thoughts on P&P will remain untainted, but I’m worried there may be remnants. It makes me angry that (a) I let myself read this book and (b) that writers feel the need to takes something original from long ago and “modernize” it. I realize this is a matter of reader opinion and everyone has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to novels. Still, if you love Pride and Prejudice, spare yourself and keep your distance from Longbourn.
And please note that I do not enjoy looking at an author’s work and judging it harshly. If it weren’t for the way Baker presents Pride and Prejudice, I would probably like her writing style (with fewer gory details). I applaud her for writing about what she loves and, at least to some degree, admire anyone who creates a novel worthy of being published. I’m sorry I can’t give her work a more favorable review this time. Fortunately, I doubt she really minds what I say anyway. =)