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Sarah Bernstein (1) (1987–)

Autor(a) de Study for Obedience

Para outros autores com o nome Sarah Bernstein, ver a página de desambiguação.

3 Works 250 Membros 22 Críticas

About the Author

Image credit: Sarah Bernstein

Obras por Sarah Bernstein

Study for Obedience (2023) 230 exemplares
The Coming Bad Days (2021) 19 exemplares
Now comes the lightning (2015) 1 exemplar


Conhecimento Comum

Data de nascimento
Local de nascimento
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Locais de residência
Scotland, UK



20. Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein
OPD: 2023
format: 195-page hardcover
acquired: December read: Mar 30 – Apr 6 time reading: 5:4, 1.6 mpp
rating: 5
genre/style: contemporary fiction theme: Booker 2023
locations: outside a small village in a contemporary unnamed northern country with a non-English language and mountains, possibly fictional.
about the author: A Canadian writer and scholar who teaches literature and creative writing in Scotland. She was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1987.

I've stalled on this one. I just don't have a review in me. My first reaction on finishing, which I wrote down, was mainly: "Seriously, whoa. What did I just read?"

This book has such a curious interesting and maybe quite wonderful opening, tossing at us unnatural happenings, a hint at the Holocaust, and some very odd phrasing by a narrator who tells us she can only shed "a weak and intermittent" light on her own actions.
"It was the year the sow eradicated her piglets. It was a swift and menacing time. ... it was springtime when I arrived in the country, an east wind blowing, an uncanny wind as it turned out. Certain things began to arise. ... I knew they were right to hold me responsible."
What witchery is this?

Shirley Jackson’s [We Have Always Lived in the Castle] was always in my mind, our narrator a Merricat of sorts. But different. Merricat was openly bitter and judgmental and superior to those commoners in town. Here our narrator is a Jewish immigrant who doesn’t speak the language. She’s not superior in the same way. She professes a humbleness, a life "cultivating solitude, pursuing silence to its ever-receding horizon".

I was lost enough in this book that many things I read about afterward in reviews were things I completely missed (Here in the spoiler is a list. Don't open if haven't read it: incest, antisemitism, the narrator's dark intents). I was, if you like, beguiled by this curious narrator.

What I think I picked on was a sense of surreal dread and a notable cultural critique on our communal crimes, like our unabated creation of climate change, in full knowledge of what we are doing. How we are all guilty of communal crimes because we obey the rules of the world we live in, perpetuating its crimes to take care of ourselves.

Not sure I've provided anything useful here in this post. I enjoyed this curiosity, found it wonderfully done, found the writing, which focuses so much on the sound, always interesting and terrific, with its own rhythm and life. And I say this even as I didn't really get it. Anyway, I encourage anyone interested to plunge in. This maybe should have won the Booker over [Prophet Song], as terrific as PS was.

… (mais)
dchaikin | 20 outras críticas | Apr 20, 2024 |
Survivor’s guilt, historical and group-based, filtered through the influences of Thomas Bernhard and Shirley Jackson. I have not read any Bernhard or explicitly Bernhardian influenced novels that I have much liked, it is evidently not a style that agrees with my personal taste in literature, so maybe this is like me asking a country music listener to rate a new ambient record. Predictable results, right? You can move on.

The narrator of the novel turns Bernhardian vituperation inward to castigate and attack herself rather than direct it outwards to society, which is at least an interesting twist. Bernhard would (and did most enthusiastically!) attack the society that produced the Holocaust; Bernstein’s narrator claims to love it:
For all things come to an end, yes, as the lives of my forebears had come to an end, life itself and life as they knew it, never knowing, never understanding why or wherefore, only that a feeling, running under the seams for centuries, had broken to the surface. How then could I not love these people, who represented the closest thing to an inheritance I could be said to have?

How can you love the society that produced centuries of violence, pograms, genocide against your group of people? How can you not blame them but rather find the fault within yourself for the feelings they bear against you as part of that community? It can only be through internalized oppression, an OBEDIENCE to the beliefs of the dominant society around you. Our narrator practices such an obedience as a child through the gender-based oppression she is met with inside her own family and tribe and now later practices obedience towards ethnic based prejudice. Her obedience is allegorically explored through, for instance, a neighbor’s belief that her dog has been impregnated by the narrator’s neutered dog; our narrator finds reasons to go along and accept and justify the neighbor’s belief. If you can do that, what sort of proposition can’t you be obedient to.

It seems to be survivor’s guilt that motivates this drive towards obedient self-abnegation. Why should she be here existing when so many were destroyed? Our narrator points to a guilt handed down the generations, guilt and trauma reproducing themselves coming up on a century past the Holocaust, though you could well indeed look back further to centuries of enduring violence. Addressing the villagers in the novel’s absurdist ending, she asks,

The fundamental question that I pose now, that has been posed before and elsewhere, more or less word for word, here it is, my brother, prepare yourself, is whether one can go on living after all, whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. One asks it of oneself, this question posed by all the faces seated before me in the town church, the question that reverberated through the cavernous suburban homes, that was transmitted in the lullabies.

So that’s the main thing I think it’s doing after a read through, though I recognize other things as well. The problem is I am perhaps not capable of enjoying a Bernhardian style. I have little patience for it. I found myself counting the numbers of commas separating short phrases, looking for the sentence with the most (25 in my reading, though there may well be a sentence with more). You might as well ask me to rate a country music album; however much country fans highly rate it, I’m not likely to. But maybe one day that exceptional example will break through… never know.

2.5 for me but I’ll round it to 3.
… (mais)
lelandleslie | 20 outras críticas | Feb 24, 2024 |
Shortlisted - Booker Prize 2023
ProcterLibrary | 20 outras críticas | Feb 10, 2024 |
“The prose refracts Javier Marías sometimes, at other times Samuel Beckett.” Her prose certainly does not “refract” as Marías and Beckett actually have talent. Pure MFA schlock.
OdysseusElytis | 20 outras críticas | Jan 18, 2024 |





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