Study For Obedience

Study For Obedience

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*** Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023 ***

 

Susan Midalia's Review


An unnamed narrator is summoned by her older, domineering brother to care for his house in a remote northern country. The sister is, by her own admission, cripplingly self-effacing and abject, an outsider in her brother’s neighbourhood and indeed in the world at large. But a series of bizarre and inexplicable events in the natural world seems to endow her with a disturbing power, one which makes the townsfolk increasingly hostile towards her. Her newly acquired strength then extends to her brother, who after his return, lapses into physical decrepitude and silence.

 

Study for Obedience is part gothic horror: a mounting sense of the uncanny and the evocation of repressed desires, including a hint of sibling incest. It also reads like a Beckettian monologue, often reflecting on the absurdity and futility of life. The novel can also be read as an allegory about the history of trauma, persecution and social exclusion suffered by the Jews. It’s also a psychological exploration of subservience and self-sacrifice used as a form of tyranny. This strange, unnerving novel, recently shortlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize, won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I admired its constant capacity to surprise, the complexity of its ideas and the elegance of its prose.