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Book review: 'Longbourn' is like the 'Downton Abbey' of 'Pride and Prejudice'

Published: Saturday, Oct. 19 2013 4:00 p.m. MDT

"LONGBOURN," by Jo Baker, Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95, 352 pages (f)

“Longbourn,” written by Jo Baker, tells the story of Sarah, an orphaned housemaid for the Bennett family, who spends her days washing dishes, scrubbing floors and doing laundry in the midst of the chaos and intrigue of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

All Sarah has ever known is the rhythm of daily work, the company of her fellow servants and a life of waiting on the Bennetts. But when a mysterious stranger appears at Longbourn and is appointed footman, Sarah’s world is upended as she struggles with feelings of love, frustration and longing.

As the reader watches Sarah’s story of love and loss unfold, the Bennett family’s turbulent Regency era life keeps up the pace as Sarah and the other servants arrange elegant meals, run errands and dress the Bennett girls up for balls, guests and trips into town.

Throughout the novel, Sarah’s story is interwoven with the lives of the five Bennett girls. She is there when Jane mourns the flight of Mr. Bingley, when Elizabeth seethes over the arrogance of Mr. Darcy and travels abroad with her aunt — and through all of Mary’s discontentedness and Lydia and Kitty’s shallow proclivity for the officers stationed in town.

In this retelling of Austen’s novel through the eyes of the servants, Baker takes readers beyond the drawing room and into the heart of the Bennett household and its commentary on the boundaries between servant and master.

The book is well written, creative and true to the “Downton Abbey” spirit. It keeps close ties to Austen’s story and is enjoyable for fans of the Regency era and “Pride and Prejudice.”

It contains an occasional sexual innuendo and swearing.

Overall, Baker’s novel gives readers a unique glimpse into Austen’s world from the outside looking in. It tells a side of “Pride and Prejudice” which isn’t as apparent in the original novel itself.

If you go ...

What: Jo Baker book signing

When: Tuesday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Notes: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of "Longbourn" from the King's English.

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