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STUDY FOR OBEDIENCE by Sarah Bernstein
There’s a strange feeling I get when reading certain books; an ethereal discomfort that both unsettles and ensnares. I last felt it with Catherine Lacey’s little gem, Pew. Now, almost three years on, I feel it again as I am entirely lost in the strange world of Sarah Bernstein’s Study For Obedience. But whereas Lacey’s book echoed the likes of Shirley Jackson, Bernstein’s is more difficult to pin down. Almost as if she channelled V.C. Andrews by way of Montaigne and Novalis.
A woman travels to a small town to tend to her brother’s home. Theirs is, from the outset, an odd relationship - with undertones of incestuous coercive control. She comes bearing the weight of history: the town is in their ancestral region, one that saw all manner of horrors (it is unspoken, but it’s not hard to see the Jewish connection). The townspeople don’t trust her. They blame her for all the things that start to go wrong. But is it just a guise to distract from their complicity in the past?
Classical and elegant in its telling, Study For Obedience is singularly compelling in its exploration of guilt, memory and the troubling legacies of shared intergenerational trauma.
Study For Obedience by Sarah Bernstein