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Reader’s Den

Reader's Den: Week 3 of "The Servants" by M.M. Smith


This week I'd like to focus on the period details of The Servants. Mark has already journeyed into a bygone era of domestic workers who lived and worked in the basement of the homes of the wealthy. The smooth running of the house (and the lives of its owners) depended on their working in tandem. The life of the servants below stairs was strictly structured and hierarchical — the butler, the housekeeper, the cook, and the kitchen maids all observed the traditions and the rules.

If you find these details interesting, you may want to check out Margaret Powell's book Below Stairs. The movie Gosford Park is a great introduction to life in the huge estates seen through the eyes of those below the stairs. The television show Upstairs Downstairs focuses on the lives of servants in a London townhome before WWI. For more recommendations, see "Waiting for Downton Abbey."

Questions for Discussion

  • Do the period details in the book feel authentic? Are they interesting?
  • What do you think about Mark's encounters with the people from the past? How does the first encounter affect him? Why does he feel he has to go back?
  • Meanwhile, what is happening upstairs? What is Mark slowly and gradually realizing about his mother? His father? David?
  • Why does the old lady say that somebody must watch the starlings (146-47)? What does that mean?
  • As we keep reading the book, do we notice a correlation between the chaos in the kitchen and Mark's mother's health?


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I loved the description of

I loved the description of the servant's duties and the way they work to run the house. I think there is a strong link between their lives in the basement and Mark's mothers illness. The more they fight the sicker she gets. Finally it is Mark who changes things downstairs and helps his mother. David shows himself to be a strong and admirable character too.

I'm glad you enjoyed the

I'm glad you enjoyed the period details. They seem very authentic and well-researched. You also touch on the significant detail of the link between Mark's mother's illness and the inner workings of the house. Thank you for participating in the discussion and sharing your insights.

My Thoughts

This book was easy to read and follow, and I loved the way Michael Marshall Smith captures Mark’s rage. I was able to sympathize with his character while still understanding that the situation was not quite the way it seemed. As the book progressed I became aware that Mark’s interactions with the old woman and servant’s quarters helped him to grow from a young child with selfish needs to one who could step outside of his comfort zone and understand that people and events from the past are always part of the present. The Servants is a very sensitively written and touching book.

Absolutely, it is a great

Absolutely, it is a great coming-of-age novel! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Your insights are great. You touch on the book's two main focal points -- Mark's growth and development and the mystery of the house. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

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