I had this as an audiobook, and though beautifully read by Emma Fielding, the story is slow. The language is literary with some nice turns of phrase. It could have been set in any household in the time period as the happenings in Pride and Prejudice are only peripherally mentioned. Darcy hardly gets a look-in and Elizabeth comes over as flat and uninteresting. Wickham gets some page time as he letches after Polly, the pre-pubescent maid, but otherwise only Mr Bennet is an ‘actor’ in this story. All the ladies do is create work for the servants.SaveSave
This is supposedly the story of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view, except it isn’t, really. Yes it’s set in the Bennett household and the story of Pride and Prejudice is happening in the background, but it’s not Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The story doesn’t spin round pivotal scenes in Pride and Prejudice and, in fact, continues beyond Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage. I was expecting something like Tom Stoppard meets Jane Austen and in that I was disappointed. There’s not much here in the way of wit and humour. What there is is a completely separate story that just happens to be running parallel to the romantic adventures of the Bennet girls. Mrs Hill, the cook/housekeeper is keeping everything together while Mr. Hill quietly drinks the sherry and gets on with his somewhat unexpected lifestyle. The story really belongs to Sarah the elder of two maids (though still in her teens) and to James Smith the enigmatic new footman in the Bennet household who should be more than he seems, but somehow isn’t. This is a realistic look at life below stairs. The main characters are the people who have to scrub that white muslin dress clean after Miss Elizabeth has trailed it through the mud. There are fires to light, floors to scrub, chamber pots to empty and monthly rags to wash. We are spared no detail of the minutiae of daily life in the early 1800s. Unlike P&P the Napoleonic Wars feature in a long (maybe too long) middle section detailing James’ backstory, revealing the hardships of the ordinary soldier for whom life is never fair.