Search Loading suggestions...

Study for Obedience

UK Publisher: Granta Books




A powerful, compressed masterwork for fans of Shirley Jackson and Claire-Louise Bennett

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…


A weird outsider, a religious town – and one of the year’s best novels… Beguiling and smart… Bernstein’s prose has a studied coolness, all concision and steady flow. Yet it develops a queasiness of tone as the narrator’s dealings with the townsfolk become a painful comedy… Haunting… ― Daily Telegraph

One of my favourite living writers… hypnotic… a complex and compelling book ― GQ

Study for Obedience […] spins a carefully woven web of culpability and criminality… Bernstein paints from a palette of dread… This masterly follow-up to her debut acts as a meditation on survival, the dangers of absorbing the narratives of the powerful, and a warning that the self-blame of the oppressed often comes back to bite ― Observer

A story of abjection… This compelling book serves as a powerful castigation of those who would draw the lines of society and communal identity so as to narrow diversity and to punish those who dare to be different ― Irish Times

[A] short, potent outing… a deliberately enigmatic, sporadically deadpan offering with a fair whiff of Samuel Beckett. But it’s at its most compelling as the folk horror evolves, seemingly, into opaque revenge drama ― Daily Mail

Remarkable… A beautiful, riddling tale, it’s like nothing else you’ll read this summer ― Telegraph

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