Book Review: The Servants’ Quarters, by Lynn Freed

Out of the blue one afternoon, I received notice that I had been accepted into the Amazon Vine Program. What’s curious is that I had never applied for the program, in fact I was only vaguely aware of it, but my interest was piqued. Scanning through a long list of book covers and brief synopses, I decided to choose Lynn Freed’s The Servants’ Quartersfor review.

At just 250-ish pages, Freed manages to infuse a significant amount of longing into this brief novel. The book is about young Cressida, her scandalous mother, her vacant father, and the benevolent neighbor who seems inextricably bound to all their fates. I truly enjoyed the intimate circle created in this book – the back and forth in tiny orbits, almost like the rest of the world didn’t exist outside of a handful of main characters. This did make it a greater challenge, however, to remember when and where this story was taking place. We are supposed to be in post-WWII South Africa, but the setting fades to gray in the face of so much personal and domestic drama. I was generally alright with that, though I wondered if that would be true for all readers.
I mentioned the theme of “longing” in this book. It’s the one emotion I felt just emanated from every page – a longing to be loved, to be cared for, to belong. There are a few of what I consider “throw away” characters meant to forward the story of Cressida and ultimately her neighbor and benefactor, George Harding. But really, it’s only Cressida and George I ever really cared about. I’ve seen their story compared to that of Pygmalion – the older, more experienced gentleman crafting a lower-class girl into polished womanhood. I understand – and mostly agree with – the comparison, so take from that what you will about the course of the story.
I truly enjoyed Lynn Freed’s The Servant’s Quarters, and was satisfied by the conclusion. As unexpected as it was to get the chance to review it, I’m glad I did!
Book Details:
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 27, 2009)