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The Servants' Quarters by Lynn Freed
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The Servants' Quarters

by Lynn Freed

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Set in post-World War II Africa (but it could as easily have been set in Shropshire or Vermont or anywhere else), The Servants' Quarters can best be described as a coming of age novel. It's three parts follow Cressida, younger daughter of a Jewish family, at the ages of nine, fifteen, and eighteen. To say that her family is dysfunctional is an understatement. Muriel, the mother, is a flirt, if not worse, and a gold digger who constantly belittles her children; the father has been totally incapacitated since he was struck in the head by a golf club in an argument with one of his wife's suspected lovers. Although they are non-practicing Jews who escaped the ravages of Hitler's Germany, Cressida and her sister Miranda are haunted by the photographs of concentration camp victims in two books given to their father by their neighbor, Mr. Harding. First Miranda, then later Cressida suffer from nightmares of Germans coming over the walls. And always with them is Mr. Harding, a pilot whose plane was shot down, leaving him not only a prisoner of was but horribly disfigured by the ensuing flames.

Strapped for cash, the family lives in the Servants' Quarters on Mr. Harding's estate, and Cressida resents the fact that it seems to be she who has to be responsible to repay his generosity. She is called upon to be a companion and tutor to Edgar, the odd boy Mr. Harding brings home from who-knows-where, and she soon becomes Harding's own companion for afternoon tea and piano playing sessions.

There's an element of Beauty and the Beast here, but someone else used the word "creepy," and that is most appropriate. Mr. Harding keeps talking about his "plans" for Cressida and what is or isn't good enough for her, tells her how to style her hair and what kind of clothes to wear . . . I kept waiting for the "ick-factor" to kick in, and eventually it did.

Lots of themes circulating here: sex, power, love, class, materialism, obligation, and more. Although she was a horrible person, Muriel was also the most intriguing character. The novel is generally well-written, and it's a quick read at 213 pages, but it didn't exactly bowl me over. ( )
2 vote Cariola | Jan 4, 2013 |
The Servants’ Quarters by Lynn Freed is a little book that packs a big punch. It is an interesting exploration of the residual effects of WWII on the ‘next generation’: those kids that were babies during the war, or born just after, and were raised by those who lived through it. The story itself is set in Africa and I was looking forward to the ethnic slant that would bring. Sadly, that slant was missing. The novel read as if it could have been set anywhere. It was slightly disappointing but the story was good enough that I was able to overlook that. Slightly reminiscent of Jane Eyre, Lynn Freed none-the-less stays away from a retelling, and The Servants’ Quarters ends up being a fabulous and unique novel. Definitely worth a look. ( )
  DanaBurgess | Aug 18, 2012 |
This book had three of my favorite things going for it: a "Beauty and the Beast" influenced story line, exquisite prose, and atmosphere...atmosphere...atmosphere.
I absolutely loved it. The characters were sympathetic, engaging, and beautifully drawn. The story drew me in and held me, which is impressive as its quite a small book. That's its one fault though...I only wish it had been longer. Sequel? Prequel? Please? ( )
  FutureMrsJoshGroban | May 10, 2011 |
A very observant and thought provoking novel of girl's (I hate using it but...) "coming of age." The story takes place post WWII in South Africa and spans two decades.The writing, plot, and all the characters are very well developed. The main character is the spunky, smart mouth, and, for now, nine-year-old girl, Cressida, whom I like very much. Freed's writing in regards to her, is exceptional. Her absurd reasoning, which oddly make sense and her mischievousness is refreshing after having been engaged with some serious charterers in my reading recently.
  s.kaosar | Jan 6, 2011 |
I thought this book was interesting, but a little slow at times where I had trouble staying interested. Good writing, and it had an interesting concept. ( )
1 vote joannemepham29 | Jul 1, 2010 |
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If every family chooses someone to punish, I was the one chosen by mine.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0151012881, Hardcover)

The Servants’ Quarters, a complex and sophisticated love story, evokes a vanishing world of privilege with a Pygmalion twist.

Haunted by phantoms of the Second World War and the Holocaust, young Cressida lives in terror of George Harding, who, severely disfigured, has returned from the front to recover in his family’s stately African home. When he plucks young Cressida’s beautiful mother and her family from financial ruin, establishing them in the old servants’ quarters of his estate, Cressida is swept into a future inexorably bound to his.

In the new setting, she finds that she is, after all, indentured. She is conscripted to enliven George Harding’s nephew, the hopelessly timid Edgar, to make him "wild and daring." And she takes on this task with resentful fury, leading the boy astray and, in the process, learning to manipulate differences in power, class, background, and ambition.

Only slowly does she come to understand that George Harding himself is watching her. And waiting.



(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Haunted by the events of World War II, young Cressida lives in terror of George Harding, a severely disfigured soldier who recovers in the family's stately African home, a situation that binds them when George saves Cressida's family from financial ruin.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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