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4.3 out of 5 stars
674
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 30 May 2017
A brilliant work!

It's been wonderful to read a work set in the Regency which is actually about the common people - ie, the well over 98 per cent of the population who were not members of the gentry or connected to the 300 odd titled aristocrats.

The daily grind of servants in a genteel but not greatly wealthy establishment, the menial work, the sordid nature of much of it, including emptying bedpans, washing underwear and menstrual napkins,is unsparingly depicted.

So, if briefly, is the misery caused by the destruction of villages through the enforced enclosures. This, like so many ugly details of early nineteenth century life, is determindly ignored by most writers on the Regency era.

Sarah is a strong and lovable heroine. Even Elizabeth Bennett doesn't outshine her. The male lead is also sympathetic and believable - and so is his rival.

As someone who has never much liked Darcy, I was delighted by the treatment of him in this, the servants' perspective.

However, the final impression of this story is not of squalor and sadness, but of hope and regeneration.

Highly recommended, particularly for those who have a romanticised view of how life was for most people in this era, saying such things as: 'If only I'd lived then' and 'I was born in the wrong age'.
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In this richly imagined novel, author Jo Baker has used the frame of Pride and Prejudice and taken the story 'downstairs' to the servants quarters. Mrs Hill is the housekeeper and her elderly husband struggles with the outside work. Sarah and Polly are the housemaids; Polly little more than a child, and the household of seven people provide more than enough work. Into this scenario comes James Smith, taken on to help share the load and, while Sarah is grateful for the help, she is mistrustful of him. We view events through the point of view of Sarah, who is bored with the monotony and drudgery of her work, disatisfied with her life and who longs for change. When Mr Bingley arrives at Netherfield, he brings with him a handsome and exotic footman, Ptolemy Bingley, who seems to offer the possibility of a new life.

All the characters from Jane Austen's world make appearances here and the author is careful not to change events or characters in a way that would offend lovers of that authors wonderfully imagined world. Yet, events are viewed from the point of view of a servant. Mr Collins visit throws the house below stairs into a panic, for example, with Mrs Hill desperate to impress him - after all, their future also depends on him when he inherits Longbourn. Elizabeth's trudges through the countryside are viewed with dismay by Sarah, whose poor hands are ruined by the constant washing she does. Even reading about the laundering endured by Sarah, frankly made me exhausted! Wickham is as slimy and dangerous as he ever was in the novel and the militia create a stir in the neighbourhood, while causing James Smith a great deal of unease. Overall, this is a novel which can be enjoyed, whether or not you are familiar with Austen's novel - Jo Baker has cleverly created a new world which will appeal both to fans of Austen and to new readers.
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on 11 February 2015
An alternative take on the goings-on in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", a 'simultan-uel' if you will, imaginatively seen through the eyes of the help at the Bennet household. Sarah, the teenage housemaid, takes centrestage, and the action happens mostly in the kitchen and servants' quarters while Elizabeth, Jane and their sisters deal with their dramas upstairs in the drawing rooms and parlour. Fans of the original novel will take pleasure in matching the events with this version, from the giddy excitement at the Bingleys' arrival at Netherfield, to Collins's clumsy courtship of Elizabeth, to Lydia's elopement with Wickham, the latter given a meatier and more sinister role that sees him meddling with the lives of the central characters in Baker's narrative.

It is to Baker's credit that she keeps more or less to the tone and language of a Regency novel, and she awakens the reader's consciousness that someone needs to be laundering the Bennet girls' many dresses, curling their hair, sewing rosettes to their dancing shoes, and stoking the fires before dawn, getting chilblains and blisters doing all those chores to make the narrative of "Pride and Prejudice" possible. I found it especially sobering that Liz's memorable trek across the country to be with a sick Jane in P&P that was held up as evidence of her gutsy and selfless spirit came at a cost to her servants, who had to attend to her mud-caked boots and soiled skirts.

With such exhausting detail to remain faithful to Austen's novel, there is a good chance that the novel could fall flat on its face. However, Baker's work succeeds because she is able flesh out her characters well and incorporate them seamlessly into the narrative. Sarah is fully-realised as a budding girl who has aspirations which are contained by the stark realisation of her station in life. The mysterious James Smith, too, who comes to be the Bennet's footman, has a story entwined with the Bennet household and that gives a surprisingly fresh angle to one of the characters originally encountered in P&P. The second half of the novel also turns its focus on the war, which casts a harsh light on the significance of the militia who are stationed in the village, and contrasts itself from the light and bubbly narrative of P&P.
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on 31 May 2014
Jane Austen hardly mentions the family servants in any of her novels, and the characters in Pride and Prejudice have a total lack of care and concern for them, unless of course the washing is late or a dress isn't pressed. Here you see the people who kept those pretty Georgian houses running, pressed into service by poverty and misfortune and only released from it by the caprice of the gentry when they were worn out or their face no longer fitted. The Georgian society of the upper class or even the middling sort is certainly fascinating but these are the broken backs and red-raw hands on which it was built.

I thought the author was too kind to Elizabeth Bennett in suggesting some sort of altruism lay behind the kind words and gestures she kept for some of the servants. She was certainly like that when it suited her own interests, but she really only differed from her family in how she chose to get the best out of the servants. In all respects Elizabeth Bennett was a woman of her time and class.

So was Jane Austen. Her own letters give the name of an odd servant or two: the nanny who took care of her, the lad who collected the letters or the man who drove the coach, and she spares an occasional warm comment for them, but often only when some humour can be got from that comment. Yet you think of the dozens and dozens of servants who over the years worked to make her life pleasant in the houses of her family, and you have to conclude that scarcely one in twenty of those she met were worthy of a name for posterity. If you read Jane Austen, read this book.
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This is Pride and Prejudice but from the view of the servants who served them at Longbourn, the Bennet family home. Mrs Hill, the housekeeper and cook, her husband, and the housemaids, Sarah and Polly. It is Sarah's story that features most strongly in this book, as she finds herself admired by both Ptolemy Bingley, a footman in the Bingley household, and James Smith, a young man who has turned up at Longbourn and is swiftly employed by Mr Bennet.

I very much liked working out which Pride and Prejudice event was going on in Longbourn. Seen from the viewpoint of the staff made it interesting. I also liked how the story came together and the new stories that Jo Baker has invented. It made me think. However, I did find the writing overall a little on the dull side and I think a bit more of a story was required to make it really work for me. I imagine that the lives of servants in the 1800s wasn't all that thrilling but for the purposes of a good yarn I think a bit more imagining might not have gone amiss.

Overall I thought this was a good read, a really great idea, but just needed a bit more oomph.
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on 13 December 2014
I can't review the book content because i haven't read it yet, but I bought the audio version alongside the Kindle version and I can't seem to get it to play on my Kindle Keyboard. It looks like the audio version is not downloading with the print version, but re-downloading doesn't solve the issue. I spent almost an hour on the helpline and the person I spoke to referred it to his manager, but days later I've had no comeback or help. The audio version is not available to play on my Kindle for PC (which is a pity) and the Kindle Keyboard is the only device I can (or should be able) to play it on (since my paperwhite is not audio-equipped) and I don't have a tablet or iPhone.

I realise it's not fair to give a book a star rating without reading and this comment is a review of Amazon's service (or lack). i will post a proper review of the book content when I've read (or listened) to it. I culdn't write the review without adding a star tating.
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VINE VOICEon 12 April 2014
To be honest, this book is wasted on you if you are not an ardent fan of Pride and Prejudice. You need, like me, to have read P and P several times, to know the characters and the order of events in THAT novel, before you can appreciate the clever way this book is constructed.

For the story of Longbourne runs in parallel with the events of P and P - the arrival of Mr Bingley, the visit of Mr Collins, the ball at Netherfield, and so on, but all seen from the servants' point of view. The famous names from P and P are merely glimpsed in passing, however, as our story here focuses on Sarah, the housemaid, and the two men in her life - the dashing Ptolemy, a footman from Netherfield, and the quiet James, the footman at Longbourne (with a secret background).

I loved the period detail in this story, and the way Sarah's life changed when she fell in love.
The only part I didn't enjoy at all was the tedious section when James was fighing in Spain, during the Peninsular Wars.

It was a slow burner of a tale, but overall I would recommend this book, but only for Austen devotees.
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on 26 May 2014
The events of Pride and Prejudice are seen through the eyes of the servants and although this might seem cosy and sentimental, it isn't. The author is very good on the realities of life in service - the insecurity, the everyday humiliations and the sheer drudgery of it all. I expected to be mildly diverted by this book but in fact, I really enjoyed it. It's very well-written, with good dialogue, believable characters and an audacious twist in the plot that I didn't see coming. It's also very clever, not just in the seamless blending of the two stories but in the way it allows us to see familiar characters in a new light.

In the final section, Jo Baker takes us beyond the events of the original book and for me, this was the weakest part because it became a conventional historical novel with all ends neatly tied. The book just about stands on its own but would mainly appeal to people who are familiar with the work of Jane Austen.
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on 14 August 2017
A beautifully written, gripping book whose characters draw you in so that you care what happens to them. Jo Baker is a wonderful writer - I have come to Longbourn via A Country Road, A Tree - another fascinating book - completely different, but equally brilliant.
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on 4 August 2017
In this wonderfully lyrical novel Jo Baker takes us behind the mirror into the serpents quarters and we see the events of the Bennett household through the eyes of the servants who inhabit the shadowy world below stairs
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