The Ser­van­t’s Quarters

Lynn Freed
  • Review
By – September 13, 2011
The law of unin­tend­ed con­se­quences comes to mind when read­ing The Servant’s Quar­ters, for in this nov­el read­ers encounter a group of char­ac­ters who are con­tin­u­al­ly met with sit­u­a­tions in which actions have unan­tic­i­pat­ed effects.

In the main, the nov­el is the com­ing of age sto­ry of Cres­si­da, an impetu­ous, but clever and inquis­i­tive nine-year-old Jew­ish girl grow­ing up in the 1950’s in South Africa. She is eager to learn and expe­ri­ence life, but is rid­dled with social inse­cu­ri­ties caused, in part, by a self-absorbed, super­cil­ious moth­er and a comatose father. Despite her dys­func­tion­al fam­i­ly envi­ron­ment, Cressida’s actions indi­cate her desire to become a respon­si­ble, reli­able, and pro­duc­tive mem­ber of soci­ety. Yet, she can­not nego­ti­ate this space because, by her own admis­sion, she for­gets to con­sid­er the con­se­quences of any­thing” and ulti­mate­ly decides that con­sid­er­ing the con­se­quences of some­thing before you actu­al­ly [do] it…doom[s] [one] to fail­ure right from the start.” 

The invis­i­ble hand of unin­tend­ed con­se­quences is also evi­dent when read­ers learn that both Cres­si­da and her sis­ter, Miran­da, are haunt­ed by night­mares about the Holo­caust that come alive for some­one who hadn’t been born until it was over.” In Miranda’s case, these thoughts trans­late into debil­i­tat­ing night­mares; in Cressida’s case, the night­mares fuel her need to know her per­son­al his­to­ry. 

The Ser­vants’ Quar­ters is a mul­ti­lay­ered nov­el in which Freed not only tells a love sto­ry, but also address­es social class, eco­nom­ic neces­si­ties, per­cep­tions of nor­mal­cy, and sub­servience. Still, the psy­cho­log­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal under­tones are what make this nov­el intriguing.
Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

Discussion Questions