I just finished Longbourn by Jo Baker and have been left, yet again, completely underwhelmed by a novel.
Taking place during the same time as Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn is told from the viewpoint of the servants downstairs – Sarah being the main character. My issue with the book is that characters all come across as shallow beings with no true character about themselves and it isn’t until the last fourth of the book that you start to learn any backstory on any of them. Without a personality to go with the people I’m reading about, I don’t really care what happens to them. Nor am I given a reason why Sarah loves who she loves. It all comes across as tragically stiff and mechanical: I am a servant. I will fall in love with another servant. He will fall in love with me. We will be in love. But I will not smile about it.
I love historical fiction but Longbourn reads as though Baker was trying to prove everything she had learned studying about the period by putting everything she had learned in her novel. Over and over again we are told about the pains of removing mud from shoes and picking up chamberpots but not in a satisfying style of mimicking the repetitive life of a servant. There is little, if anything, to rejoice about in the story which makes me annoyed as a reader. When Austen would celebrate beauty, Baker would delve in the dark, hopeless, utterly sad world of the life of servants.
Okay – but at least make your characters interesting.