Monday, March 10, 2014

Longbourn

Longbourn is the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the perspective of the servants. It may seem like a gimmick but it's so well written that I think it was one of the best novels of the year in 2013. If I had written Longbourn it probably would have been an angry, unreadable, pseudo-Marxist screed, but Jo Baker is a much more even tempered character than I am and what she has done is to produce a satire on Pride and Prejudice that I think is almost as delightful as the original. The story of the two servant girls, their new footman, the housekeeper Mrs Hill, Mr Hill and their interactions with all the beloved characters in the book is told with grace and subtlety and eloquence. Baker mirrors the P&P central conceit with a clever one of her own with a few postmodern touches here and there. The nightmarish clothes washing scenes in Longbourn reminded me of Jack London's Martin Eden (a book nobody reads anymore?) and we are continually shown how precarious life must have been for England's poor in the early days of the nineteenth century before the Factory Acts, Child Labour laws and Poor Law Relief. We get the Napoleonic wars, the slave trade (there's a bit of Edward Said in there too) but like I say nothing TOO heavy. Jo Baker wants to tell a good story not to rant and rave about the coming revolution...
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As you may know P&P is one of my favourite novels and I'm pretty protective of the book, which is why I was not a fan of P&P& Zombies or even of PD James's Pemberley (although as I said in my review of that one, if I'm as sharp as PD James is at 91 (when she wrote it) I'll consider myself very blessed indeed). I listened to Longbourn as an audiobook and I loved it so much that I went out and bought the paperback and gave it to my missus. She liked it to so much that she passed it on to our 11 year old daughter (a Pride and Prejudice fan) who is currently reading it now.    

24 comments:

Martha said...

...and Jack London's nonfiction "The People of the Abyss."

Alan said...

Adrian,Looks like a well crafted read.Did you ever meet her in Belfast? I still think you gave a bit of a short shrift to "Upstairs,Downstairs."The New York Times had another fine review of Paddy Fermor's Broken Road. It also contained an interview in the fashion section of a gifted and very vain eccentric Irish/American J.P. Donleavy which made quite an impression on me when I was young "The Ginger Man."So glad to see your post.Best Alan

seana graham said...

There have been so many bad Austen spin offs that I would never have even looked at this, but now I will. Or try to. Right after I wade through A Suitable Boy.

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

You have a daughter who's a Pride and Prejudice fan at 11, you've done a good job.

adrian mckinty said...

Martha

People of the Abyss and the Road to Wigan Pier wd make a good double bill for the 1%.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Just never got into Upstairs/Downstairs. Glad the NYT has gotten round to reviewing The Open Road. The more people who read Fermor the better.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

See you next year then...

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

She loved that one. But I think all little girls around that age love that one.

Rob James said...

This is on my pile, after I finish teaching my current little pile of novels for school.

I watched the telly adaptation of the PD James and enjoyed apart from the inclusion of a sex scene. I'm no prude (I see notices about sex and violence as invitations, not warnings) but I was very uncomfortable seeing Lizzie and Darcy getting jiggy.

adrian mckinty said...

Rob

Huh, I didnt know the BBC one was out already. I'll check it out, although I didnt really dig the book.

Cary Watson said...

I steer clear of reboots of literary classics, but I like the idea of a servant's-eye view of the goings-on in P & P. It runs counter to all the toff-worship so many of these things indulge in. I saw the BBC's Death Comes to Pemberley (my review) and the best I can say about it is that it was a like an episode of Murder, She Wrote but with better production values.

adrian mckinty said...

Cary

Ugh, I dont like the sound of that.

I did like Murder She Wrote though. It was fantastic how she would travel all over the world and everywhere looked like Burbank, California. I particularly enjoyed the one or two Irish episodes: those accents...what a comedic treat.

adrian mckinty said...

The Boston Globe (!) reviews Duffy#3

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/03/11/book-review-morning-gone-adrian-mckinty/cv4DALxtD85Q7xFhz8lkMJ/story.html

seana graham said...

Go, Boston! It's too bad that they didn't wangle being the center of the American publishing industry because it seems like it so easily could have happened.

I find it hard to hate Murder She Wrote because Angela Lansbury was so charming in it, even if you could always solve it by figuring out who was the biggest guest star. I'm glad that a talented performer probably has a comfortable old age on account of it. It wasn't Columbo or Rockford, but what is?

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Very nice of the Globe. My first review ever there I think.

I could never have got through my years of unemployment without Murder She Wrote and Columbo both on on rainy afternoons in that dead time between the news and Countdown...

Its great that AL is still alive too and apparently still v lively.

seana graham said...

She just got an award from the Oscars too, even if they didn't feel it noteworthy enough to make it a live part of the show, the bastards.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Her performance in the Manchurian Candidate is one of the greatest ever captured on film I think.

seana graham said...

Exactly. It may be unfortunate that Murder She Wrote may eclipse her better performances, but really such is the actor's life. It will probably all settle out in the long run.

Not sure if that works for writers, though. So again, good on the Boston Globe.

Rob James said...

Anna Maxwell Martin is great as Elizabeth. She's always great although she is Regan in King Lear at the National Theatre at the moment and she is dreadful

Sheiler said...

Seana, you're taking on A Suitable Boy after all the Adrian tirades, er promotions, er tirades for and against it??

seana graham said...

I keep promising myself to do it, Sheiler. My love of Vikram Seth predates Adrian's recommendation of this book by a long way, so there is really no excuse.

adrian mckinty said...

Sheiler, Seana

You need to read A Suitable Boy now esp since A Suitable Girl is coming out next year.

Sheiler said...

I already read A Suitable Boy and we discussed it here. I even mentioned my brother who gave up drinking and eating for 3 days while he read the first half. And then the 2nd half came round and tossed it out. I agree that the 1st half was the best but I loved it all around. You agreed with my bro, Adrian.

Also loved Golden Gate, so I get the intention, the pre-intention, Seana.