Sandi's Reviews > Manservant and Maidservant

Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton-Burnett
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's review
Oct 08, 09

bookshelves: 2009, library-books-read
Recommended to Sandi by: Terence
Read in October, 2009

If Oscar Wilde and Molière tried to write Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, they might have come up with something like Manservant and Maidservant. On one hand, this book seems to be a comedy of errors like The Importance of Being Earnest. On the other hand, it seems to be a satire like The Misanthrope. On yet the other hand, there is a delightful storyline revolving around the five Lamb children that's reminiscent of some perennially popular 19th Century children's novels.

I kept hearing that this novel is difficult to read because it's almost all dialogue. I didn't find it difficult for that reason. Reading Manservant and Maidservant was very much like reading a play. I used to like reading plays. What made the book difficult was how characters went through changes and did things without much motivation. I didn't find much consistency in any of the characters other than the children. I found them to be delightful and their scenes were the best in the book. It was as if all those children in the stories I grew up with were placed in a household with normal, less-than-perfect parents.

Of the commentary I read, Horace Lamb is referred to as a sadist who is suddenly motivated to change his ways. Quite frankly, I wonder how anyone could read the book and slap him with the label of sadist. He's a man who is dependent on his wife's money. She loves her children far more than she loves him. He has grown to be miserly and controlling. However, a sadist inflicts pain for his own pleasure. If Horace ever caused anyone physical pain, I didn't catch it. He was very strict and punitive with his children, but he was acting in what I believe he thought was the children's best interest. He thought he was making them better people. They were afraid of his anger, not physical punishment. I don't think he was much different than many fathers throughout the ages.

The scenes with the servants were the most confusing. George was a real puzzle and his actions at the end didn't make any sense based on his attitudes throughout the book. The Doubleday family also didn't make sense, especially the way they just disappeared from the story.

I primarily gave this book 3 stars because of the scenes with the Lamb children. I think Compton-Burnett could have done a great job of writing a story focused just on them. It would be a fractured version of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew or Little Women with dysfunctional parents instead of perfect parents and well-suited to the 21st Century.
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Reading Progress

09/30/2009 page 10
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Terence I hope you enjoy it, if only half as much as I did :-)

Sandi I've really enjoyed the first 10 pages. I keep reading that it's "difficult" because it's all dialogue. So far, I don't find it difficult at all. Then again, I always liked reading drama when I was in college. It's pretty much the same.

message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Sandi, Only 3 stars but from what you said I'm almost tempted to add it. I'll think about it. Great review!

Sandi I only gave it 3 stars because it jumped around and there were quite a few places where things happened that just didn't make sense.

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