The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Longbourn is the house in which Jane Austen set Pride and Prejudice. Jo Baker's novel is the story of the servants who washed the Bennet girls' linen, soothed Mrs Bennet when she was distressed, indulged Mr Bennet when they were obliged to indulge him and all the time carried on with their own unregarded lives.
It is a brilliant premise for a novel and from it Jo Baker has developed a set of characters every bit as absorbing as the family whom they serve. Their lives are painted with compassion but without sentimentality. The fortunes and misfortunes of the Bennets affect them greatly, of course, but it is their own struggle for happiness with which Longbourn is concerned.
Clever though the premise is, it is not the best thing about this book. The best thing is the writing, and, in particular, the description - the eye for small details, the awareness of the sensuality of objects. In beautifully turned prose, the rhythms of domesticity are intertwined with the rhythms of the natural world so effectively as to make you feel like you are actually there, in Longbourn, experiencing the world of the servants with its unceasing demands and stolen compensations. A novel to be savoured .