Do you ever have that thing where you finish a book and then you feel sad that its over? I'm totally having that problem today.
I stayed up till midnight last night finishing this book and now I'm annoyed with myself because I really wish I had a bit more of it to read today! I should have made it last longer.
Anyhow, I'm not going to make this a long book review because there are a million other sources out there on the internet that can do it better, but I just wanted to say if you like Jane Austen, or Downton Abbey, or stories about love and loss and hope and life and death, this is a good one for you. (I know, its a rather sweeping summary, but really, all those things are in there.) Also, once you read this you will never look at housework the same way again.
So, in a nutshell, this is the story of what was going on in the kitchen and the corridors while Jane and Lizzy and Mary and Lydia and Kitty were busy trying to get thier love lives worked out. It is told from the point of view of the servants at Longbourn, the home where the Bennet family (the main characters in Jane Austen's Pride and Predjudice) live. Mr. and Mrs. Hill are the butler and housekeeper/cook at Longbourn. There is also a maid named Sarah and a scullery maid named Polly. Sarah is in her late teens, the same age as Elizabeth Bennet and Polly is about thirteen or fourteen (though she herself does not know her actual age, since she was a foundling and never knew her parents).
The first chapter will make you want to go hug your washing machine. The description of what a laundry day in the Regency period entailed made me tired just to read it. Oh the lugging and boiling and beating and wringing! As the main character observes: "If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often though, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them." When you really think about the labour that went into a clean set of clothes, or a beautifully prepared meal, or even more basely, a clean pot to piss in under your bed, it boggles the mind. Meals do not come from the dinner fairy (as I am fond of telling my children) and there is (sadly) no laundry elf. Someone was responsible for all of it, and it is fascinating to see the workings of the machine that is an English country house.
But its not all just getting the wash done. There is also a very moving story of love and family going on underneath it all. And the author, Jo Baker, does a great job of peeling back more and more layers to let us see the heart of the person who is holding the tray. She also addresses the very interesting issues of class and gender in a way that will never have you read Pride and Predjudice the same way again. But I don't want to spoil it for you. Just suffice it to say that you should read this book. Pick it up from your local library or buy it for yourself as an early Christmas present. You are going to love it. Though I warn you, you won't get much of your own laundry done, as I spent a few days ignoring my housework so I could gobble this book up.
Now I just need Jo Baker to write a similar book for the servants of Sense and Sensibility.