Study for Obedience | Granta

  • Published: 04/04/2024
  • ISBN: 9781803510019
  • Granta Books
  • 208 pages

Study for Obedience

Sarah Bernstein

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…

Study for Obedience is a fully absorbing, beautiful and sinister portrait of becoming and unbelonging, of violence held in time and place, that enriches the reader's habitation of the world's intelligibility and its darkness

David Hayden

Sarah Bernstein manages to combine cool, perfectly weighted prose with an extraordinary emotional sensibility

Fiona Mozley

Sarah Bernstein's Study for Obedience is at once a languid and sometimes harrowing journey into the truth of human animals living in a small community and the need for a woman to give voice to the strange and beautiful cruelties of life. This is a unique novel that is primal and eerie, where language creates silence and vivid images reflect a kind of earthiness where our most intimate selves live. The wide praise for Bernstein's remarkable writing is well earned.

Asale Angel-Ajani, author of A Country You Can Leave

The Author

Sarah Bernstein is from Montreal, Canada, and lives in the Northwest Highlands. She is the author of The Coming Bad Days and Now Comes the Lightning. Granta Books will publish Study for Obedience in 2023.

More about the author →

Sarah Bernstein on

Fiction | Granta 163

A Dying Tongue

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‘What needs explaining was that, and it was a funny thing, a very funny thing, I did not speak the language.’

An extract from Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein.

Fiction | The Online Edition

Shining the Boot

Sarah Bernstein

‘I did my work and looked perfectly happy, tidy and unobjectionable, shining, shining the boot.’

New fiction from Sarah Bernstein.

Fiction | The Online Edition

The Coming Bad Days

Sarah Bernstein

‘I began to appreciate being amongst things that were mine only. I cleaned with a puritanical zeal.’

An excerpt from Sarah Bernstein’s debut novel, The Coming Bad Days.