Friday, September 02, 2011

 

Karen Cushman Said

... that this book is “Delightful! Funny and wise.” So I picked it up—The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca Barnhouse—and took it home. I was finding it tedious about halfway through: the main character spends so much time trembling and being obedient and trying not to think about her personal history, the thing that would make her more than a powerless, uneducated, timid servant girl. Everything snaps into focus when the key bit of that history is revealed (Spoiler alert: it was her own behaviour that lost her a home and her beloved sister and put her into this put-upon position) but then dwindles away again by the end. She just didn’t come off the page.

Do I expect too much? I don't think so. Other authors have dealt with powerless females in history (Karen, for example) but have managed to infuse them with wit and interest without making them historically exceptional. How the author came to this story is really interesting, but maybe (again!) the truth of it cramped her style. All the physical abuse and humiliation the maidservant suffers throughout the book needed a like satisfaction: Margery Kempe, that self-righteous pontificatress, deserved to fall down some stairs and expose her bum, at least. So, in short, this is a competent enough book, but for real fun just go straight to Karen.

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