In the thought-provoking literary masterpiece “Study for Obedience,” the gifted Sarah Bernstein presents a compelling exploration of human survival.
Drawing parallels to the revered Shirley Jackson, Bernstein skilfully crafts a narrative that delves into the themes of abuse, prejudice, and blame, employing a narrative style reminiscent of stream-of-consciousness, characterised by the use of run-on sentences and deliberate phrase repetitions.
This is an extraordinary novel - one enriched with a lexicon that may send readers scurrying to their dictionaries. However the beauty of the novel lies in the way it unfolds its enigmatic narrative without the crutch of dialogues and nameless characters, including the central female narrator.
Despite its seemingly concise length of approximately 200 pages, navigating this literary terrain demands a careful and thoughtful engagement from the reader.
The storyline unfurls as a young woman embarks on a journey from her place of origin to the remote northern territories of her forebears, assuming the role of a housekeeper for her recently abandoned brother.
The narrative takes an intriguing turn with bizarre occurrences, ranging from collective bovine hysteria to inexplicable events such as the demise of a ewe and her unborn lamb, a dog’s phantom pregnancy, and a devastating potato blight.
The palpable local suspicion towards newcomers intensifies, particularly directed at the narrator, creating an atmosphere of imminent threat that seems to hover just beyond the boundaries of her brother’s property.
A literary force to be reckoned with
As the hostility steadily mounts, the protagonist becomes increasingly apprehensive about the potential consequences should the town’s unrest materialise into tangible actions.
With a voice that is both sharp and lyrical, Bernstein touches upon themes of complicity, power dynamics, displacement, and inheritance.
“Study for Obedience” emerges as a finely tuned and disconcerting novel, firmly establishing Bernstein as one of the most captivating and influential voices of her generation.
Her exploration of the human experience and the complexities of survival elevates her work to a level that resonates with readers, cementing her status as a literary force to be reckoned with.
Ahmad Nazir is a UAE based freelance writer