From the title, I imagined The Servants’ Quarters to be an altogether different kind of story. Instead, we are quickly introduced to Cressida whose family has fallen on difficult times and they are forced to “move up the hill” to the former Servants’ Quarters building on the property of Mr. George Harding. Mr. Harding is disfigured from a War injury and Cressida is initially disgusted by him. Over the years, as Cressida’s family’s circumstances ebb and flow and they move up and down the hill, Mr. Harding is the one constant.
This is a slim novel, however it took time to read, I think because I struggled to follow and so much was left out or quickly resolved. I often forgot what I knew and what was still unanswered. Sadly, too much was left unanswered or when the answer came it was unsatisfactory. For example, Mr. Harding takes on Edgar as a charge. There are many assumptions including that he is the bastard son of Harding’s deceased brother, Charles. But in the end he was actually a replacement for that bastard son who was never found in the chaos post World War II. You never quite understand how exactly Edgar came into the mix and where he was prior to being taken in by Harding.
I was wishing for something more when I started this book, mostly an understanding of life in South Africa post WWII (at least I believe it was set in South Africa). All I think I could gather was that Cressida, her family and Harding were British citizens living somewhere “off the continent.”
The story of Cressida and the interest Harding took in her education and well-being was interesting and has been compared to a Pygmalion type relationship. However, at times their relationship rang false and the novel overall seemed to need more of a foundation.