Author: Lynn Freed
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978 0 15 11288 6

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If the test of the writer’s craft is in making both good and bad characters equally compelling and readable, then Lynn Freed certainly aces this one. Her book, The Servants’ Quarters, has some supremely unlikeable characters, be it the beautiful and aimless narrator, Cressida, her grasping mother or their wealthy benefactor, Mr Harding . And yet, this slim book with its spare and fluid narrative keeps you hooked and eager to know the fate of these frail, flawed people.

Set in an unnamed location in South Africa in the years following World War II, the story follows the relationship between Cressida and Harding over a decade. When they first meet, she is a precocious nine year old with a social climbing mother and a father in a coma, facing imminent financial ruin, while he is a much older war veteran who has suffered severe disfigurement in combat. For reasons not immediately clear, he begins supporting the family, even moving them to the servants’ quarters of his own house. His mentoring of Cressida seems avuncular at first, but soon begins to take on more predatory overtones that people around them either do not notice or choose not to. For all her reservations and despite knowing about his other affairs, Cressida is slowly drawn toward the man and he becomes the only stable constant in her life, and her most important influence, as things around her change. She blooms into a beautiful teenager, struggling with her silent love for Harding and her yearning to be free of her mother. She is directionless, bored, and casually toys with men who are besotted with her, even as she waits for Harding to notice her.

As much as this is a love story, it is also a frank examination of the dynamics between rich and poor in the claustrophobic town that Cressida lives in , and that both she and her mother long to be freed from. Intertwined with these stories is a narrative on the devastating consequences of war, be it on Harding who has survived combat and prisoner camps, or the young Jewish Cressida who is haunted for years by nightmares of German soldiers . This shared anguish becomes a bonding force between the two, even as the people around them remain indifferent to it.

A small but deeply moving tale, voiced by a memorable narrator.

Click Here To Purchase The Servants' Quarters