Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review: Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton Burnett

Horace Lamb is a tyrant of a father, a bit of a Scrooge who forces his five children to wear rags and use little coal in the fire despite the fact that it's so cold outside their water freezes overnight. He gives them little food and has not time or patience for their naturally childish ways. His wife, Charlotte, has had enough and has a secret plan to marry his brother, Mortimer, and take the children away. After all the family money is hers and she is tired of watching her children suffer. She goes away for awhile, and in her absence a new tutor comes in. His family is terribly curious about the Lambs and insist they spend Christmas together. When Magadalen Doubleday falls for Mortimer Lamb, things begin to change, including Horace himself.

Manservant and Maidservant is told almost entirely through dialogue which became very exhausting for me to read. The characters seemed quite willing to constantly analyze their lives and interactions and while a few things do actually happen, it's mostly just dialogue upon dialogue. I found myself extremely reluctant to continue reading since I had to really force myself to pay attention. I did enjoy the character of Avery, the little boy, being a child he was quite cute and innocent, but most of the rest of the characters grated on my nerves.

I read the introduction to the book which explains that Compton-Burnett herself grew up in a cruel household and there are some people who find all twenty of her books to be the same. If that's the case, there's not a chance I'll be reading anymore. It's not that there weren't many clever or true things said in the book, it's just the process of reading it all was so tedious.

I suspect that some of you might like this more than I did. If you enjoy books that are sheer dialogue you might, or if you enjoy reading about everyday household interactions with some look at class thrown in you might also enjoy this. It just wasn't my cup of tea.

I did read this for both the Small Press spotlight series (never fear New York Review Book Classics I still love you) and the LOST Books Challenge.

LOST connection
This book is barely shown in fact, I give huge kudos to whoever figured out it was this book. In the season 4 series finale, Kate grabs a gun out of a drawer because she thinks someone is in Aaron's room. The book is in the drawer. I'm not exactly sure how this ties into LOST, perhaps the complicated family dynamics of the Lambs echoes the very many family issues in LOST. Horace's quest to remake himself is much like many of our LOSTies paths to redemption.

Rating: 3/5
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: New York Review Book Classics


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