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Study for Obedience (2023)

por Sarah Bernstein

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21420125,961 (3.12)70
"A young woman moves from the place of her birth to the remote northern country of her forebears to be housekeeper to her brother, whose wife has recently left him. Soon after her arrival, a series of inexplicable events occurs - collective bovine hysteria; the demise of a ewe and her nearly born lamb; a local dog's phantom pregnancy; a potato blight. She notices that the local suspicion about incomers in general seems to be directed with some intensity at her and she senses a mounting threat that lies 'just beyond the garden gate.' And as she feels the hostility growing, pressing at the edges of her brother's property, she fears that, should the rumblings in the town gather themselves into a more defined shape, who knows what might happen, what one mightbe capable of doing. With a sharp, lyrical voice, Sarah Bernstein powerfully explores questions of complicity and power, displacement and inheritance. Study for Obedience is a finely tuned, unsettling novel that confirms Bernstein as one of the most exciting voices of her generation"--… (mais)
  1. 00
    The Bell Jar por Sylvia Plath (kjuliff)
    kjuliff: Both internal dialogues of a sensitive woman.
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Mostrando 1-5 de 19 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
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. ( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
Shortlisted - Booker Prize 2023
  ProcterLibrary | 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 | Jan 18, 2024 |
I don't really know what to write about this book. It won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for 2023 and was shortlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize. So obviously people have found it worthy of acclaim. But not me; I found it difficult to read mostly because the author uses run-on sentences that sometimes take up a whole page. Also, the narrator is either unreliable or one of the most naive persons ever imagined.

Here's what the Giller jury said about the book:
“The modernist experiment continues to burn incandescently in Sarah Bernstein’s slim novel, Study for Obedience. Bernstein asks the indelible question: what does a culture of subjugation, erasure, and dismissal of women produce? In this book, equal parts poisoned and sympathetic, Bernstein’s unnamed protagonist goes about exacting, in shockingly twisted ways, the price of all that the world has withheld from her. The prose refracts Javier Marias sometimes, at other times Samuel Beckett. It’s an unexpected and fanged book, and its own studied withholdings create a powerful mesmeric effect.”

The narrator is the youngest of a large family who was trained to meet the various needs of her older siblings. When her entrepreneurial oldest brother calls her to come look after him in his home in some unnamed northern country because his wife and children have left him, she drops everything. The area where the brother lives is a rural community with a few small shops and a communal farm. The family's ancestors lived here before they were driven away by the other inhabitants which was probably due to them being Jewish. The narrator's brother has learned the local language and seems to get along well with the neighbours but the narrator cannot speak the language despite taking lessons and, soon after her arrival, is made the scapegoat for various livestock deaths. This isn't helped by the brother's prolonged absence from home although he seems to be in touch with community members. He advises his sister to put her name down to help at the communal farm. She is put to mucking out the barn where the cows were kept before they all had to be killed due to some communicable disease. Despite her hard work on the farm she still isn't accepted by the locals. Even when her brother finally returns home, she is shunned by them. The brother shortly becomes ill (perhaps at the sister's hands) and there seems to be no medical help available and the locals won't approach the house. So the narrator is left in this huge house looking after her brother much like one would a pet while the outside world fades away. The book ends with this sentence: "Nevertheless, I say to myself, softly, I am living, I claim my right to live."

Is that really living? If so, it's a bleak prospect. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jan 9, 2024 |
A young woman moves to an unnamed northern country to take care of her brother, whose marriage has recently collapsed. She tells us this is “the country of her forebears.” But she is new to this land, a stranger and—though somewhat of a linguist who has learned Italian and German without difficulty—unable to speak or understand the local dialect. When, soon after her arrival, her brother decamps to see to his business dealings and visit clients, her isolation is complete, but for her brother’s dog, Bert, a “small and sickly animal.” Coinciding with her arrival are some distressing events: a case of collective hysteria among a herd of cows that results in the animals being destroyed, the death of a ewe while giving birth, the failure of a potato crop. When she is not occupied by household chores, the woman spends her time hiking the wilderness adjacent her brother’s property. But in her brother’s absence she is forced against her will to venture into the town to purchase supplies, and here she witnesses first-hand the confused distrust with which the villagers regard her. Still, she attempts to mix with the town’s inhabitants, eating at the diner, buying local produce. She even signs up for volunteer work at a farm. But their misgivings persist, and her interactions with her neighbours are without exception awkward, bristling with misunderstanding and suspicion. Study for Obedience tells a profoundly claustrophobic story. We spend the entire novel in the young woman’s head as she ruminates on her past and present lives. She is the youngest of many siblings—“more than I care to remember,” she admits—and at a very young age was charged with taking care of them, serving their needs, complying with their demands. It was a life spent learning obedience, training she carries with her to her brother’s house, where she quickly assumes a subservient role. Much of the narrative maintains an eerie and shadowy vagueness. At one point a woman with a dog inexplicably appears in the garden behind the house. No words are spoken, but the woman’s stance and expression are accusatory, and through a mysterious process of silent suggestion the narrator is made to understand that the dog is pregnant, that Bert is responsible, and that this is further cause for the general antagonism toward her. Oddly, instead of questioning or resisting the notion that she represents a threat to the residents of the town, the narrator internalizes it, admitting that she’s always been an outsider: “it was something in my blood”—as if to say, she understands why they are uncomfortable in her presence. Toward the end, the brother returns from his business trip but soon falls ill and becomes secretive and reclusive, and the narrator is left to await what comes next. Sarah Bernstein’s prose is fluid, if dense, and carries the reader along on its sinewy rhythms. In Study for Obedience Bernstein spins a weirdly compelling tale, heavy with foreboding, that describes one woman’s attempts to come to terms with being alive in a world that never lets her rest, that is always challenging her right to exist. It is a book with no resolution that raises many more questions than it answers, but is fascinating for precisely this reason. Winner of the 2022 Giller Prize. ( )
  icolford | Jan 5, 2024 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 19 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
“I knew they were right to hold me responsible,” professes Bernstein’s unnamed narrator at the outset. “They” are the native residents of an unspecified remote northern country where her entrepreneurial elder brother lives in a lavish, former gentry-owned manor house. After his marriage breaks down, she drops everything and travels to be at his beck and call. The crime of which she stands accused is begetting a series of local environmental catastrophes on her arrival: a dog’s “phantom pregnancy”; a depressive sow crushing her piglets; and a herd of crazed cattle.
adicionada por bergs47 | editarThe Guardian, Miriam Balanescu (Jul 2, 2023)
 
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'I can turn the tables and do as I want. I can make women stronger. I can make them obedient and murderous at the same time.'

-Paula Rego
'Language is punishment. It must encompass all things and in it all things must again transpire according to guilt and the degree of guilt.'

-Ingeborg Bachmann
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For my pops, Nat Bernstein, who taught me to love the sound of the words.

1940-2022
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It was the year the sow eradicated her piglets.
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"A young woman moves from the place of her birth to the remote northern country of her forebears to be housekeeper to her brother, whose wife has recently left him. Soon after her arrival, a series of inexplicable events occurs - collective bovine hysteria; the demise of a ewe and her nearly born lamb; a local dog's phantom pregnancy; a potato blight. She notices that the local suspicion about incomers in general seems to be directed with some intensity at her and she senses a mounting threat that lies 'just beyond the garden gate.' And as she feels the hostility growing, pressing at the edges of her brother's property, she fears that, should the rumblings in the town gather themselves into a more defined shape, who knows what might happen, what one mightbe capable of doing. With a sharp, lyrical voice, Sarah Bernstein powerfully explores questions of complicity and power, displacement and inheritance. Study for Obedience is a finely tuned, unsettling novel that confirms Bernstein as one of the most exciting voices of her generation"--

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