Thursday, January 21, 2016

Audio Stumble

Well, my excellent book streak over the holidays has been broken up a bit, not by bad books (for the most part) but by long ones that I'm reading all at once, and therefore not finishing.  A lot of them are kind of meaty, too, which I tend to dip in and out of, because I tend not to find the meaty ones quite as compelling.

But I think I've hit a big stumbling block with the audiobook I've been listening too.  Longbourn, by Jo Baker, is billed as Pride and Prejudice from the view belowstairs.  It had me for a while--the reader is very good, and her delicate, deliberate voice very much matches the literary tone of the book.  And I love the details of how a manor house runs, and the glimpses of the drawing room drama that we all know so well from our beloved P&P.

So I've made it about halfway through so far, but I'm thinking of giving it up.  I'd say that it had my attention for a while, but only tenuously. What the book really doesn't capture is what makes Jane Austen so great; this book has a very modern style, in that it is almost entirely composed of the fine minutiae of daily life--what the cloth feels like on your skin and the exact dampness of a certain kind of rain wetting your skirts and chilblains and flower scents and the meadow in the morning and in the moonlight and and and.  It's all sensory information.

Did you know that there's no physical description of Jane or Elizabeth in P&P.  We know Jane is lovely, and fairer than Lizzie, and that's basically it.  I realize this is a contrast Baker is playing on--that Austen ignored the mud that was getting tracked in, and the dishes that needed to be cleared, because she ignored the people who did those tasks, that even gauzy, floating young ladies had bodies that sweated and underclothes to be washed and chamberpots to be emptied.  But those details can't keep me going forever.

I'm a little confused by Sarah's sense of being trapped in the country--does everyone feel so trapped?  Is the idea that every small life feels small, or that Special People like Sarah aren't meant for these backwaters?  Also, is the sketchiness of Ptolmey Bingley really that sketchy?  I mean, he seems very smug and urbane, and that seems kind of a jerky response--the "reverse" snobbery of the country folk for the city.  I was dismissing that until Sarah didn't actually fall for him.  But then there's James--he's the romantic hero mostly because he's there, it seems.

And now, at the part I'm mired in, we're getting James's war stores in flashback form, and they're grim and brutal, yes, but they're also inevitable.  It's perfectly clear from what went before that he's on the run from the militia, as a deserter, presumably.  It's worth it to learn the nature of this downfall there, but it's the longest damned chapter of the book, and I know exactly how it's going to end.  War is hell, she said for 50 more pages.

It's not a bad book, I think.  It's very much a minutely observed literary novel in which not much happens, our favorite P&P characters appear only long enough to ignore the servants to a greater or lesser degree. Some of them get painted more sympathetically than Austen paints them, which I usually appreciate (see Joan Aiken) but here kind of resented, not because I don't like the idea of Mary being put upon or Mr. Collins just doing his best, but because the heavy implication is that Austen was being snobbish about people who are not terribly charming.  But she's showed herself to sympathize with the uncharming over the charming often enough (hell, Darcy's a fine example of that), so I'm not really on her side there, either.

I don't know--I hate ditching a book, but I've been avoiding listening to it, which seems like a bad sign.  Maybe I'll pick up the next Rivers of London book, or the first Flavia de Luce, and see if I ever come back to Longbourn.  That seems disingenuous, though.  I should probably just put it down.

In closing, let me leaving you with another piece of non-authentic Austeniana, one that I'm very excited about.

(PS. Who told me (on Goodreads, I think) that they would be interested to see my reaction to the book?  I can't find the note, but I want to discuss it with you!)

1 comment:

Kris said...

It could have been me. Let's have dinner and discuss it!!