chestnut book blog

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Longbourn and Wide Sargasso Sea

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker

I have just finished reading Longbourn by Jo Baker, a re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice, from the point of view of the servants. I am always a bit hesitant about rewrites of classic tales, but Longbourn exceeded all my expectations; it was absolutely brilliant. The action of this novel takes place, in the main, in tandem with activity in Pride and Prejudice. The author, in her end-note, describes how Longbourn examines those ‘ghostly presences’ in the wings of Austen; Hill, Sarah and the other servants. They emerge as vivid human begins with cares, histories and secrets of their own that eclipse the oblivious Bennetts upstairs.  Baker completely avoids pastiche of Austen and her narrative voice and style is completely her own, which I thought was a major achievement when tackling such a canonical work.

The subtle shift in perspective in Longbourn, which alters everything and changes the previously firm foundations of a story, reminded me of the other great retelling of a classic, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which revisits Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre from the perspective of Bertha Mason, the first Mrs Rochester.  I don’t think there is a better retelling of a classic, ever. That is a bold statement, but I have not seen the power, complexity and insight of this retelling matched. It reminds us that there is always another side to a story, always. The mad woman in the attic becomes a human being and the eventual fate of the Jane Eyre characters horrifically inevitable because of their circumstances. Wide Sargasso Sea does of course differ from Longbourn in the extent that it chronicles the immediate past before Jane Eyre, but both have that touch of magic needed for a successful revision of a classic text.

Two great retellings and I’d highly recommend them both for giving an alternative perspective on well-worn tales.


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Love in a Cold Climate

Nendaz Plateau

Courtesy of wikicommons and Norbert Aepli

On Valentine’s Day night this year, I will be throwing my things into a case as I prepare to leave for a week in Switzerland. Romance will have to wait until the next day when we are safely snuggled up by the fire in Nendaz. This is my first visit to the land of the clocks, chocolate, banking and snow and I’m excited. In theory, as well as sitting besides fires and doing some snowy walks, there will also be skiing involved. Staggering around like Bambi on ice might be the more accurate description of what I will be doing though! While I’m thinking about packing, I thought I might share a few of my holiday essentials with you in case you need inspiration for a get-away as well.

1. Books!

You didn’t really expect me to start with anything else did you? Whilst I am very tempted to take Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate as the title is so perfect,  I’m actually going to take Longbourn and How to be a Heroine. Longbourn is a re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants. Normally, I’m not a big fan of meddling with the classics, but I think this sounds very interesting and I will make an exception. As for How to be a Heroine, any book that starts with the author realising that all her life she’d wanted to be Cathy (Earnshaw) when really she should have wanted to be Jane (Eyre) gets my vote! I can’t wait for more revelations and musings from author Samantha Ellis. I suspect it will make me want to go back to all my old favourites!

2. Suncream and Sunglasses

Hopefully it will be sunny as well as cold and snowy in Switzerland, but regardless, I’ll be wearing my favourite sporty sunglasses (these ones are fab too) and suncream.

3. Cosy knits and layers

Mountain Warehouse have some good offers on pure merino wool base layers at the moment. I’ll be wrapping up in these during the day beneath my outer gear and then relaxing in soft fleece and jersey on an evening as I tuck into my fondue. Hush does lovely soft leggings, knits and cosy, casual outfit ideas if you haven’t come across them before.

4. My new favourite film

I’m more of a reader than a television or film viewer, but I have been absolutely loving the film Paul recently. Have you seen it? It is incredibly silly, but I laughed so much I cried the first time I watched it and I may have indulged several times since as well! I’ve also got season two of Game of Thrones and all of American Horror Story to catch up on so I should have plenty of viewing choices.

5. Audio

On the flight out, it will be very early, so I thought I’d listen to some podcasts rather than reading. I’ve downloaded several episodes of Radio 4’s Book Club and Books and Authors programmes. I’m also trying out Audible, with a free download of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I’ll let you know how I get on! If you would like to try it too, you can get a free download using this link.

I hope you are all doing well and if you are going on holiday soon, have a wonderful time!