A different view of the goings-on at Longbourn, the family home of the Bennetts in Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice. In this recently-written novel by Jo Baker, life is seen through the eyes of the Bennett’s servants. And while the reader does catch glimpses of the major events in the original novel, the focus here is squarely on the five servants: orphaned Sarah, a housemaid; Mrs. Hill, the cook and head servant; her husband Mr. Hill, Polly, a younger housemaid; and James Smith, a footman who is hired by Mr. Bennett after mysteriously arriving in the night. At first Sarah mistrusts James, thinking him to be a fraud. Sarah would like to escape Longbourn and travel the wide world, particularly going to London. She thinks she sees her chance to do this by leaving with one of the Bingley’s menservants, but James prevents her from making a disastrous mistake. A romance develops between Sarah and James but James has a secret that he doesn’t dare reveal to her. He had been punished for supposedly deserting the British army after battle and has been on the run ever since. With the installation of the militia in the neighborhood, James is on edge and decides to quit Longbourn and work elsewhere.
There are other mysteries to be resolved here too: the relationship between Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Hill; the reasons for James’ journey; and how Sarah is able to locate him. All are eventually revealed through Baker’s accurate detail and perceptive characterization. This is an enjoyable read for Austen fans and for others.