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Study for Obedience: Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023

Study for Obedience: Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023 by Sarah Bernstein

As seen:

  • Booker Prize 2023 Longlist
  • Booker Prize 2023 Shortlist

By Sarah Bernstein

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1 review

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A woman moves from the place of her birth to a remote northern country to be housekeeper to her brother, whose wife has just left him. The youngest child of many siblings – more than she cares to remember – from earliest childhood she has attended to their every desire, smoothed away the slightest discomfort with perfect obedience, with the highest degree of devotion.

The country, it transpires, is the country of their family’s ancestors, an obscure though reviled people. Soon after she arrives, a series of unfortunate events occurs – collective bovine hysteria; the demise of a ewe and her nearly-born lamb; a local dog’s phantom pregnancy; the containment of domestic fowl; a potato blight. She notices that the local suspicion about incomers in general seems to be directed particularly in her case. What is clear is that she is being accused of wrongdoing, but in a language she cannot understand and so cannot address. And however diligently and silently she toils in service of the community, still she feels their hostility growing, pressing at the edges of her brother’s property.

Inside the house, although she tends to her brother and his home with the utmost care and attention, he too begins to fall ill…


24 Oct 2023


Absolutely beautiful writing. Absolutely no idea what was going on. Thoroughly enjoyed it though. Quiet, gentle and thoughtful, it starts off slow but becomes a bit of a page turner. The Guardian says it is: "a meditation on survival, the dangers of absorbing the narratives of the powerful, and a warning that the self-blame of the oppressed often comes back to bite." I can go with that.

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