Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith

If you live long enough, everything happens.
And then some of it happens again.
[pg xii]

The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith
Harper Collins, September 2008 (ARE)
Fiction; 209 pgs

Mark is an 11 year old boy whose life is out of balance. His mother has remarried and they have moved from London to the seaside community of Brighton. Mark was forced to leave behind his friends and the life he knew. His mother is deathly ill and Mark wants nothing more than to have things return to the way they once were. He directs most of his anger towards his new stepfather, David, who seems to control every facet of their life. It is his house that the family moved into and him that controls how much diet coke comes into the house.

Mark feels alone and unsure of his place in the new life he finds himself leading. He befriends an elderly woman who lives in an apartment in the basement of the family’s house. She has lived there for many years on her own. She opens her door to the young angry boy and lets him in on a little known secret about the centuries old house they live in. Behind a locked door lies the old servants’ quarters where once servants ran the house, cooking and cleaning, keeping things in order and maintaining the balance of life up above.

The Servants is a heartfelt story about a boy coming to terms with his mother’s illness and finding his way in life. Author Michael Marshall Smith’s writing is simple and genuine, allowing the reader into the mind of that 11 year old boy as he struggles to understand everything going on around him. It was impossible not to grow attached to Mark, to feel his pain and also to want to steer him in the right direction when he seemed to be off course. He just needs to find his own way and look beyond the surface of what is going on around him.

In addition to Mark’s character, I was drawn to David, the stepfather. Mark focused so much of his anger and energy on disliking his stepfather that one had to wonder what was going on in David’s mind. Mark’s own father and mother could do no wrong in Mark’s eyes. He put them on pedestals, making it difficult at first to get to know them. And yet, it proved an effective move on the author’s part in telling Mark’s story. The reader only experiences what Mark wants us to. It is his story, after all. Although this is Mark’s tale, I would like to have gotten to know the elderly woman in the basement more. Her own story must be a remarkable one.

There does not seem to be much to this story, at least not at first. Michael Marshall Smith’s The Servants is on one level a ghost story. On another, it is a story about love and family. And it is about finding one’s place in this mad crazy world we live in. I found The Servants to be a refreshing and charming story.

Rating: * (Good +)

Check out the Michael Marshall Smith's website for more information about his books.

Review book provided by Harper Collins First Look Program.


  1. Great review! This sounds like a really great book!

  2. This book sounds interesting, Wendy!

    I find the elderly woman an intriguing character. I wonder how the story will go if it is told from her POV.

  3. That does sound like a good one. Thanks for another wonderful review.


  4. April - Thank you. I did enjoy it. :-)

    Melody - I do wish the author had offered a little more information the elderly woman and her past. I imagine she has quite a number of good stories of her own to tell.

    CJ - Thanks! It was good--and quick to read too.

  5. This sounds interesting. I love the way you set up the story, it really peaked my interest.

  6. Tara - Ah, thank you! If you do read it, I hope you enjoy it!

  7. This sounds like my kind of story - I haven't even seen this book at the bookstore or library but will be on the lookout for it!

  8. Iliana - The book comes out in September, I believe.


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