Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Servants

The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith
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Sep 15, 08


** spoiler alert ** In this coming of age tale, Mark is 11, unhappy about being moved from London to Brighton when his sick mother and stepfather, David, relocate there. He fears that David is not doing the right thing for the mom, and Mom always seems too tired to go out or do anything other than sit in bed or on a couch and look pale. Mark is trying to improve his skateboarding skills, but does not connect much with the local kids, who are much better at it than he is. One day, after blowing up at David, Mark escapes the house and happens across the old lady who lives in the basement. She invites him in for tea and cake. The small space in which she lives has a large, mysterious door that catches Mark’s interest. The old lady shows him what lies beyond, an expansive space an entire floor where the servants used to live back in the day. It is dirty and spooky. On another visit, when the old lady falls asleep Mark steals past the door and finds that there is more to the space than dirt. The inhabitants of the past reappear and Mark finds himself in another era. What does this all mean?

The rising dirt in the basement stands in for his mother’s advancing cancer, and ultimately, Mark taking some responsibility in the lower reaches, he plays a role in cleaning up the mess, participating, leading, and thus growing. Mom begins to get better. Surprise, surprise.

Mark had held on to ideal notions of what his father had been, but ultimately allows the truth of that to enter his consciousness as well. And he finds that David is not the monster he imagined him to be.

There is also a theme here about the past being always with us, the ghostly servants in the basement, the rotting pier, and ultimately, the friendship of David for Mark’s mother, from a time before Mark.

The book was an amazingly fast read, and was enjoyable, but it seemed a bit too obvious in a way, and I found that even though I did not get all the notions that were at play, I did not care enough to spend much thought on them. So, it is recommended, slightly.
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