I spent a pleasant (if meltingly hot) afternoon at Kendal library yesterday, listening to a talk by Jo Baker. For those of you who don’t know (which included me until yesterday) she’s the author of Longbourn, a Jane Austen style historical novel with a difference – it’s written from the point of view of the servants.
The novel is heavily intertwined with ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but instead of focussing on Mr and Mrs Bennett, Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, it descends below stairs as a sort of “sub-sequel” (Ms Baker’s own description). As she explained, where a character in the main book calls for a carriage, in ‘Longbourn’ you see the stable-boy getting the horses ready. Where the Bennetts dine, in ‘Longbourn’ the cook is preparing the veg; when a visitor calls the butler and footman vie to open the door. Interwoven into all this is a plot involving slavery, violence, and the war in Spain. It’s a novel idea (if you’ll forgive the pun) and one that made for an engaging talk, brought to life by readings from the book.
Historical fiction isn’t usually my cup of tea but it’s always interesting to get an author’s take on their own work and this was no exception. And judging by the quality of the readings, I can recommend the book to anyone who does enjoy the odd foray into the eighteenth century.