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The Servants' Quarters

3.10  ·  Rating details ·  431 ratings  ·  90 reviews
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 b
Hardcover, 216 pages
Published April 27th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Average rating 3.10  · 
Rating details
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Jan 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
here we go . . . at first, it read like an upscale version of a harlequin romance. child bride/rich patron-lover? check. haunted past and haunted house? check. sexy scenes and class conflict, sometimes with their limbs entangled? double check. i have to admit, while i am still an admirer/alum of lynn freed's style, i felt she was rehashing her stock characters here and replaying her infuriatingly limited interest with one character, usually young, female, and angry. (don't get me wrong--i *root* ...more
Jul 13, 2009 rated it liked it
"If every family chooses someone to punish, I was the one chosen by mine. Mr. Harding, for instance. When he came to lunch, Ma always put him next to me. Why me? I wanted to know. Why not Miranda, she's a freak herself? Every night Miranda woke up screaming that the Germans were coming for her over a wall."

And there you have all the important storylines of The Servants' Quarters introduced in the first sentence. Ten-year-old Cressida lives in South Africa post WWII, although the war could hardly
Dec 29, 2009 rated it liked it
This is really a quite well written book and an interesting setting. As the backcover suggests it is a Beauty and the Beast type of story, and would be much more compelling were it not for the somewhat creepy pedophile subtext and the sheer cookiness of almost all the characters. With very few exceptions (Phineas and Elspeth) noone in this book is a grown-up or acts like one. The heroine is a teenager so we can expect the angst and the tearful outbursts from her, but pretty much everyone has the ...more
Jun 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Susann by: NPR/Alan Cheuse
When it comes to NPR book reviews, I think I need to stick with Nancy Pearl and Maureen Corrigan. Alan Cheuse and I just don't share the same tastes. Freed's writing carried me along, but I didn't get anything out of the story. The setting involves a Jewish family in South Africa, right after WWII. Race, class, and religious conflicts were to be expected, and Freed also packed in themes of blame, guilt, and responsibility. All these issues, combined with unappealing characters, left me unmoved. ...more
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
In Lynn Freed's The Servants' Quarters, a bittersweet saga of love - a love that, in this novel, is particularly unconventional - takes place over the span of many years, packing an epic of a romance into a little over 200 pages. Certainly the characters in the book are not immediately likeable, and thus, not for everyone: flaws and irritations in each character stick out obviously, but in a way that creates a full-blooded human story. Perfection is not Freed's goal. The story moves along rapidl ...more
Amy (Bossy Bookworm)
Quirky little book. I was intrigued and the two main characters were odd and interesting enough to pull me along, but I actually felt like it could have/should have been a little longer. The immediate setting was vivid, but several other aspects weren't fully realized: the greater context of South Africa, religious tensions for Jews after WWII, and the sense of responsibility for the main protagonist's silly, sloppy actions. Wish I could give it 4 stars. I'm still thinking about the story.
Mar 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was 'weird', I can see why some might call it gothic, but the story was so intriguing. I can say I enjoyed it. Love the author's command of Cressida's voice, even at different ages. I thought the story's style was dark and ambiguous and vague, which was annoying and yet at the same time kept drawing me in. I actually found myself satisfied with the ending. For the family friendly reader, there is some sexuality.
Aug 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Took me a bit to get into this: expected a standard plot & finally realized it's like life - there ain't not plot, it goes day by day till you reach a defining moment, and on from there! Once I stopped expecting 'normal', it was easy to sit back & watch it unfold as the pages turned! ...more
Ellyn Bache
Jul 19, 2017 rated it liked it
A quirky and sometimes creepy story about a girl in a dysfunctional family in South Africa just after WWII. She's ten when the book begins, a bit traumatized by the events of a war she didn't witness, relegated with her mother and sister to the servant's quarters of an estate owned by a man severely disfigured in battle but dealing with it better than the people who have to look at him do. The novel is populated by illegitimate children (or maybe not), loose women, strange-acting relatives and ( ...more
Oct 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
Ugh. Started out well enough, but much like a Seinfeld episode, it was about nothing. Whining, simpering rich people, only concerned with themselves. That was wasted time I'll never get back.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Rich writing and fascinating characters. Ultimately the ending wasn't satisfying.
Apr 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2011
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Samantha Glasser
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
The Servants' Quarters is a story told in three parts. The first begins with Cressida, the narrator and protagonist of the story. She is only ten years old, and she is terrified of the Germans. Although she was born after WWII, her family has felt the effects of it; her sister Miranda suffers from nightmares as well and her father's paralysis is a constant burden on the family. To make matters worse, George Harding, the wealthy owner of a brilliant house on the hill, was scarred during the war, ...more
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Well I liked this one. It was a mess of read, as in the relationships were all so damaged, some physically as well as mentally. This is not a book about a pedophile as I read in someone's review - those people seek out 11 and under - this man, though he was twice her age, old enough to be her father, watched her from a distance and only after much conversation, many years, and extenuating circumstances did he fall, and had sex with this young girl at 17, which still is not appropriate, but it wa ...more
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
For a young girl of ten, Cressida is amazingly complex. George Harding, at two and half times her age, notices. George Harding, severely wounded and deformed in the war, spends most of his time at his home, a large mansion built with sugar money. He cares for his nephew, Edgar and a variety of people through the years occupy his carriage house including Cressida's family.

Cressida's father is comatose following a smack on the head with a golf club which leaves her mother, Muriel, to take care of
Susan Andres
Jun 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
While reading this book, I kept thinking of John Gardner's words in On Becoming a Novelist: "an aesthetically successful story will contain a sense of life's strangeness." So I was gratified to see how many of the reviews here describe this novel as "strange," "odd," or "weird." It's an deeply unsettling book, not in a sinister way but in disturbing ways that shake up your assumptions and expectations. In that way, it reminds me of two of my favorite books, Rachel Cusk's brilliant and gloriously ...more
Jun 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Slow to begin, but draws you in about 2/3 of the way through. I don't know how to categorize this one; it seems to resist pigeonholing. Set in South Africa after WWII, but not really Booker Prize fodder- not focused enough on the setting. The narrator comes of age, but it's not really about that (or maybe it is). There's a romance, but it's not really about that either. Perhaps it's about a relationship. The two primary characters (our narrator, who grows from a young girl to a young adult, and ...more
Feb 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
I chose this book because I needed South Africa for an Around the World reading challenge. That, plus the fact that it was an extremely short book enabled me to finish it. It wasn't that the writing was poor - it wasn't at all, and I would read Lynn Freed again. My issue with this book was the characters - they were some of the nastiest and most manipulative creatures I have have ever read about. I found myself rejoicing that that they were only fictional creations, and not real people that I wo ...more
Dana Burgess
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010
Definitely well written, in complete control of the language. The character dynamics were completely believable and very interesting. Protagonist is really well drawn. Overall, though, I wast just sort of bored by the narrative. Nothing about it ever really grabbed me. I don't think this is the book's fault, it just wasn't my thing, really. Again, it was great to see all the characters as they played off the protagonist, but story-wise, I wanted more. More what, I don't know, but something. This ...more
Jun 14, 2015 rated it liked it
From the title, I imagined The Servants’ Quarters to be an altogether different kind of story. Instead, we are quickly introduced to Cressida whose family has fallen on difficult times and they are forced to “move up the hill” to the former Servants’ Quarters building on the property of Mr. George Harding. Mr. Harding is disfigured from a War injury and Cressida is initially disgusted by him. Over the years, as Cressida’s family’s circumstances ebb and flow and they move up and down the hill, Mr ...more
Dec 03, 2009 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Set in Africa, this post-WWII story is a coming of age story centering on a young girl whose family moves between the worlds of privilege and dependency. With unusual and disturbing characters surrounding her, she struggles with issues of identity and belonging.

While not the most gripping novel of this type, I found the perspective fresh and intriguing, and there were enough plot twists to keep my interest.
Aug 15, 2009 rated it liked it
It was definitely a strange book, but it was smooth and well-written. It was also a quick read.

I liked the character development, and the relationships were complex and interesting. I was a bit thrown with the last part of the book--it was a bit too strange for me. There were also things such as the location that really didn't make a difference when you thought they would have.

It's definitely not a boring book, and it will keep you thinking, so I'd suggest it.
Oct 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
Another one of the randomly-selected-from-the-library's-new-release-shelf books. This one was extremely well written, and had a lot of neat literary elements. The beginning third of the book seems so hopeless that i found it somewhat depressing, but the end was very well done and you are happy that the main character has found some semblance of moderate happiness. An interesting look at life in general, and an enlightening perspective on people's character.
Nov 10, 2009 rated it liked it
This was a very odd book. I do not know The Beauty & The Beast story but read on the book that the author used that story as inspiration. It felt very superficial, as if she was only skimming the surface of her characters. And this was after Half Broke Horses. Granted the book was really short but still it felt like a watercolor wash rather than an oil painting. I would explore her other books, maybe. ...more
Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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?
Feb 12, 2012 rated it liked it
hmmmm. i'm honestly not sure what to make of this book. part of me found is a beautifully written, historical romance. another part of me found it simply...inappropriate.

maybe i'm too stuck in the current day expectations of what makes an acceptable pairing, speaking mostly of age, but i was a bit creeped out by the dynamics of the relationship in this story.

you'll have to read it to decide for yourself, however, i won't be the one to recommend it.
Jun 05, 2014 rated it liked it
I wanted to read something that I would not ordinarily pick up (contemporary fiction is not my go-to genre) so I grabbed a few books at random from an overstock section and chose The Servant’s Quarters because I liked its opening sentence best. The story was a little different than I expected but I enjoyed it from start to finish. I think that readers who enjoy young protagonists will especially enjoy this one.
Jun 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
This wonderfully observant novel but a masterly writer applies a variety of themes. The most prominent is a coming-of-age story. Others are:
South African Jews
WWII and its effects
Mothers and daughters
British class system
The Forsyte Saga
The Holocaust

It's a compelling story,
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Lynn Freed is a South African novelist and academic.

She came to the U.S. first as a foreign exchange student, and then went on to receive an M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature from Columbia University. She taught at Bennington College, Saint Mary's College of California, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Oregon, the University of Montana, and the University of Texas in Au

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