Manservant and Maidservant

I was quite excited to join Simon's (at Stuck in a Book )book read of Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton-Burnett because I've heard so much about her. I did attempt to read her book a House and its Head a number of years ago but gave up after a few pages. I wanted to try her again thinking that being a bit older and having grown in my reading tastes, maybe it was the right time, maybe I'd finally appreciate her. But I was wrong. And I did so want to like this!

Simon mentions that you either love or hate ICB and if that's the case then I have to put myself in the hate camp. Although I think hate is too strong a word. I completely understand why some people would love her and her style but I'm just not one of them. I don't need a plot to love a book but if there's no plot then I do need a sense of atmosphere or some charming characters and this book has none of those. Even the children were irritating.

Trying to explain why I didn't like this book is not easy. There's also her style. She writes mostly in dialogue form. Her books are almost like plays. The little description that she uses is more to set the scene and physically describe her characters. After that, it's just conversation, non-stop. Gritty, grating and at times unpleasant conversation. Some of it just makes you cringe.

Thomas at My Porch compared one of the characters, Horace, to Basil of Fawlty Towers. I think it's an apt description. Interestingly enough I loved that show but I don't know if I'd enjoy reading a book about a Basil like character. ICB has also been compared in the past with Harold Pinter. I've never read his plays but I enjoyed the movie the Servant which was written by him. Though it was unpleasant, it was very memorable and it does have many similiarities with Manservant and Maidservant. I think I would have enjoyed watching an ICB book dramatized as a movie or a play. I think with the aid of great actors using their faces and voices to bring about all the nuances of ICB's writing, I would have been more impressed. I just didn't have the patience to read it in novel format and in that style of hers.

So anyway, ICB is not for me which is not to say I won't try her again another time. Just not in the near future.


  1. Thanks for the link - a pity you didn't like ICB, but thanks for giving the book a go. My Mum *really* hates ICB's books, so I expected some anti-Ivy feeling!

    They are so like plays, aren't they - that's actually one of the things I love about them, her use of dialogue, but I'd be interested to see how it would transfer to the stage. In a way it would be really easy to make Manservant and Maidservant into a playscript, but I wonder if a live performance needs more action than a novel...

  2. At his core, I think Horace is an attention-hound and a control freak, much like myself, which might be why I find him funny rather than annoying.

  3. Hmmm..I tried to get hold of this but failed so I haven't taken part. However, I do suspect I wouldn't be a huge fan. As the devil seems to be in the detail with her books, and all in dialogue too, I'd probably lose the plot quite quickly! Most of my reading is done on trains and so I need books that don't require excessively close reading these days. Maybe one day.

    I see you are currently reading The Home Maker. You will adore it!

  4. @Simon - Yes, they are so like plays. I think an enjoyable play wouldn't need much action just great actors and good dialogue.

    @Thomas - I think actually watching an actor perform as Horace would be funny much like Basil Fawlty is.

    @Rachel-I really do wonder what you would think of ICB. Do let us know when you do read her. I'm actually not sure if you would like her or not.

  5. Oh dear, I'm afraid I didn't get on with this either which doesn't bode well for the ICB's I've got to read as part of the VVV!

  6. @verity - I had no idea ICB was a Virago writer.

  7. I enjoyed reading your thoughts! I agree that many of the characters weren't necessarily likable.
    There are definitely books that I've wanted to like and didn't.


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