Longbourn by Jo Baker

I am going to preface this review with the clear understanding that the following is my opinion, and my opinion only. Take it as you see fit, ignore it at your own pleasure.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, even NPR acclaim this book. I, on the very other hand, criticize this book. To me, the editors, publishers, agents, and critics fell in love with the idea of the story, the book itself, however, could have used an unbiased reading. It’s like they all took it at its first draft, it never got that red pen strike through all tales need.

Before I go too far down the rabbit hole, Longbourn is the story of Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen from the lower-class perspective. Simply, the storyline of the cooks and carriage drivers, the launderers and handmaidens of Hetfordshire. Instead of the close third-person narrative Jane Austen offers the reader between the budding relationship between Jane and Mr. Bingley and Lizzie and Mr. Darcy and the wild sister and the malice soldier and the parents and their own nerves about their growing daughters, we hear about Sarah and James or possibly the messenger for the Bingley household and how the others interfere. This story had the ambition to recreate the world and the writing style of Jane Austen, however, it failed to do so by not refining their own work. Jane Austen was a revolutionary female writer for the clear aspect that she wrote for the female audience and she took fiction, which was at the time a lesser known fold of the literary arts, and refined it by intertwining morals and fantasies within the storyline. She treated writing with great care, she trusted her readers to visualize and follow without explaining ever wind that passed through her world. There is this incredible power when writing, an author can control the pace of a scene based on how many images we stuff into a moment, how many breaths we actively note, or tears you can count down a characters face. Jane Austen wrote, created a world really, where she captured people in the circles of the Bennets, Bingleys, and Darcys. But do you remember Austen detailing every aspect of the bust of Mr. Darcy other than a few details of the power it exuded, the resemblance it carried, and chisel of the face, how uncanny the similarity was? Did we see every stitching or flower in any of the girls dresses or updos? No, but we still saw the scene. Maybe not the exact way Jane Austen had imagined it, you had imagined it, I had imagined it, or any director of movie versions. But we all saw it. We all still felt and thought the way Elizabeth had, Jane had, Mr. Darcy, and our nice fellow, Mr. Bingley. That’s what made Jane Austen’s writing captivating, the reason her stories were incredibly successful.

While reading Longbourn, I had to resist the urge to strikethrough the pages with a red pen myself. The first two paragraphs, I kid you not, are on laundry. On Sarah doing the laundry, more specifically, how she hated doing the laundry, but it must get done. How the cold weather made it an inconvenient and unpleasant activity. She hated doing it because it was cold, but it was silent in the early morning as she did it. And for that reason she enjoyed it. The entire two paragraphs are about doing laundry. The clear purpose of the first few pages are to set the reader into the setting, the moment, the world. But who cares about the laundry, in the real world we procrastinate from doing it ourselves. Who wants to read about it? What this tells us is that the reader has no faith in the author, no trust to follow along with what she’s saying. So she takes this moment to clearly and specifically craft the world so there could be no sense of confusion. No trust in a reader means that over-compensation plays a role in the writing. And when that occurs, everything is detailed, every single thing. So the story lulls on.

I’m going to be blatantly honest with you all right now. I tried, I really did. But I could not do it. I couldn’t finish it. And I hate putting books down after I start them, but this story was slower than my old dog on his morning walk. I tried to read ten pages anytime I picked it up, get at least fifty out during the day. There would be a good moment and then way too many lines about the inconsequential. At a certain point, pretty soon on, you realize the good moments are way too outbalanced by all the rest. All the nothingness clouds the story, so you tend to wonder, “what am I reading about right now?” quite a bit. Like those times the commercials are so long you forget what show you are actually watching.

I think this book could have been very good, if there was that large red strikethrough through the manuscript. Cut it down to the bare bones of the story line. The world, the characters, and their interactions. And then we would realize the other problem with this story, there is no pride or prejudice or moral lesson, and can you really enter Jane Austen’s world without a characteristic lesson or hypothetical question. Like what happens when society lightened their class barriers or if people put the same effort on themselves that they focused on others? I would dare to answer no.

This book is a large resist for me.

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