By Jo Baker
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95, 332 pages
Generations of readers have been charmed by the comings and goings of the Bennet Family of Longbourn Hall, their friends, neighbors, and relatives. First published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice follows the five sisters as they negotiate the intricate social arena of Regency England. In this alternative version of Austen’s classic, British author Barker views the antics and activities of the landed gentry through the sensible eyes of Sarah, a young maid in the Bennet’s employ. Above stairs, finery, frippery and parties take center stage. Downstairs, it’s a different story and Sarah has some serious relationship problems of her own.
“To live so entirely at the mercy of other people’s whims and fancies was, she thought, no way to live at all.”
Attracted to two different footmen – the reticent Mr. Smith, who is hiding something significant, and the forbidden Ptolemy Bingley – Sarah must decide who she will choose, while also carrying the inconsequential notes of her betters, buying their shoe-roses, serving pudding and doing a not inconsiderable amount of laundry. Whether an Austen fan or not, this is a smartly written reimagined narrative that will delight readers from the first page through to the satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen