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The Servants [Hardcover]

M. M. Smith
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 April 2008

A uniquely dark and elegant tale that illuminates the loneliness of childhood, the pain of loss and the power of imagination. It will charm and haunt its readers in equal measure.

Eleven-year-old Mark is bored. He spends his days on the Brighton sea-front, practicing on his skate-board. His mother is too ill to leave the house, and his stepfather is determined that Mark shouldn’t disturb her. So when the old lady who lives in the flat downstairs introduces him to rock cakes and offers to show him a secret, he’s happy to indulge her.

The old lady takes a large, old-fashioned key and leads Mark down a dusty corridor to a heavy door. Beyond the door is a world completely alien to Mark’s understanding. For behind the old lady’s tiny apartment, the house’s original servants’ quarters are still entirely intact, although derelict. Mark finds himself strangely drawn to this window onto the past, and when, the next time he visits, the old lady falls asleep, he steals the key and goes to visit the servants’ quarters alone.

And suddenly Mark’s life takes a bizarre turn, as the past seems to collide with the present, dreams invade reality and truths become apparent to this hitherto unperceiving boy.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (1 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007261934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007261932
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 705,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Talk about a protean career! The writer Michael Marshall, one might think, already has more than enough strings to his bow: As Michael Marshall Smith, he created some of the most inventive and quirky of cutting-edge science fiction novels; dropping the ‘Smith’ (as Michael Marshall), his bestselling crime fiction is among the most technically adroit and pulse-racing in the field. But here he is with yet another hat on – and as M M Smith, he proves to be just as accomplished a writer for younger readers. The Servants is an absolute spellbinder: a wonderfully engaging yarn that will rivet the attention of both younger readers and those adults lucky enough to pick it up.

11-year-old Mark is well aware – even at this tender age – of the fragility and insecurity of life. After his move from the bustle of London to the more bracing seaside air of Brighton in the winter, he finds he is not enjoying himself. His mother’s illness is distressing, and, worse, he cannot stand his new stepfather. The house he lives in is a strange place, with, what’s more, a strange elderly woman in the basement. The sands of reality are about to shift for the vulnerable Mark, and he may have to rely for help on some people who may not even be real.

Smith’s mastery of the fantasy genre is, thankfully, a skill he has not allowed to wither on the vine, and this is intelligent, allusive writing; both disturbing and evocative. Let’s hope MM/Michael/Marshall/Smith finds time to revisit the genre in between his flesh-creeping adult thrillers. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


‘Superb, offbeat contemporary fantasy … Smith portrays a child's irrational anger with devastating accuracy, and Mark's visits to the surreal and intensely symbolic world of the servants are powerfully depicted’ Publishers Weekly, starred review

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exquisite book, in all ways 16 April 2008
This is a clever, subtle, beautiful little book, somewhat reminiscent of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME, in that it's voiced by an engaging young protagonist and hides a dark, surreal and rather disturbing secret world inside what seems to be, very recognizably, our own. I won't spoil the surprise (which creeps up on you throughout the story) but must say I found it both haunting and touching, and it also made me laugh out loud from time to time. I recommend it for readers of any age. It's also a very beautifully packaged book, with head and tail bands, a ribbon and a classy cover, so it makes a lovely gift - and it's short, too, and SUCH an easy read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and touching read... 14 Jun 2008
By Nicola
I came across this book while I was reading the reviews in the Fortean Times - a great place to sniff out new fiction!

This book is about a young boy called Mark. He's eleven years old and is desperately trying to come to terms with the fact his mother has now married another man, David, who Mark resents. He feels that David is an intruder in their lives who is trying to come between him and his sick mother. They are living in Brighton, a long way from the London that Mark sees as his real home, and his real father. Mark discovers an old woman lives in the basement flat under their house (the old servant's quarters) and she has an interesting and spooky secret she wants to share with him that will open Mark's eyes and change the way he thinks forever.

I really liked this book. It is insightfully told from Mark's eleven year old point of view: how he feels about being taken away from his old life and thrust reluctantly into a new one and how he interprets everything his stepfather does as a plan to annoy him and come between him and his mother.

This is a traditional kind of ghost story but is also touching and very well written, keeping you interested right to the end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It said everything about the world had changed" 27 Nov 2008
Growing up in cosmopolitan London, eleven-year-old Mark would never have thought to find himself living in Brighton with his remote step-father David, and his rather delicate and solitary mother. A diffident boy, Mark has been lonely most of his life, his only real comfort his skate board, a recent present from his father, which he plays with along the long stretches of the asphalt promenade by the beach. Mark is taken back to discover that the cheerful summer chaos of the board walk has been replaced a few cold looking mothers, so he spends most of his afternoons virtually friendless with no one to talk to about his dreams and his disappointments. Even as he watches the other boys joke and toss each other around, Mark skates in silence, going home to the three story house on Brunswick Square that belongs to David but which does not feel anything like home.

From the outset it's pretty obvious there's something terribly wrong with his mother who seems content to sit at home all day staring silently out at of the living room window at the vast Brighton seascape. Within weeks of David coming into their lives, Mark's mother had started to get ill. David casually informed Gerald from the start that his mother needs rest and quiet, and that for the time being she can't even consider stepping outside the front door to go for a walk or have dinner in one of the many restaurants that pepper the promenade. Left to his own devices, David is forced to explore his surroundings, similarly repelled by David's heavy-handed attitude towards him while also concerned about his mother's failing health. Then a fall through his bedroom window jumpstarts a series of events that force him to question what is real and what is not.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
When Mark's family moves from London to Brighton, his former familiar life vanishes. His stepfather David vacillates between irritating and ignoring him. His mother seems so caught up with her new husband, that she no longer participates in the kinds of special family moments he shared. Mark spends most of his time alone until he meets an elderly woman living in a self-contained basement apartment. She has lived there many years. She too seems almost invisible, until she meets Mark. Mark goes to see her more and more, exploring beyond the doorway into the servant's quarters once inhabited a couple of centuries ago. Now cobwebs, disuse, and decay have overtaken the past. Mark notices that time seems to almost stand still when he visits the servant's quarters alone and then something changes, something unworldly allows him to see life as he never could before.

From the first paragraphs of the prologue of THE SERVANTS, Michael Marshall Smith gives readers an eerie yet moving portrait of the old woman living in the apartment. Old, so old that her body seems to meld with the location, she could be a somewhat senile old woman or perhaps her body has been transformed into another material. From the first description, Michael Marshall Smith creates a connection between the young and the old as only the young and old value rhythm and ritual, knowing how to escape the here and now. As the novel progresses, Mark's connection to this woman, to the past, transforms his reality, allowing him deeper insights into his new family. As Mark comes to understand his place within the world, his family itself experiences a change, a change both sad and uplifting but one that moves the heart.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Kindle Book
I love M.M.Smith books and to have this on Phone is a delight. Er seven more Word required er dunno...
Published 12 months ago by michael taylornew
5.0 out of 5 stars A simple, well-told story
This book had been on my TBR pile for what I'm sure was a number of years, but was always one of those put down to "maybe another time" when choosing a book to read. Read more
Published 14 months ago by simon211175
5.0 out of 5 stars A Simple Story, Well Told
The Servants is the story of an 11-year-old boy, his mum and stepdad. They've moved from London to Brighton into a house with an old lady living in a tiny flat in the basement. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
Amazing quality amazing price, perfect decription, made my fiance a very happy man, he read the book in 3 days after searching for this book since 2009.
Published 19 months ago by nibbler
3.0 out of 5 stars A little too convenient
The Servants has long been a book I wanted to read. As with other reviewers here; my favourite books were from MMS' early years (Only Forward, Spares, One of Us, What You Make It)... Read more
Published on 14 Sep 2011 by Belochka
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneasy tale
This is a hard book to categorize. Part fantasy, part straightforward domestic drama, I found it straddled the two genres with slight unease. Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2011 by Deborah Swift
3.0 out of 5 stars Could do much better.
Mark, his Mother and his Mother's new husband all move down to Brighton after his Mother becomes ill. Read more
Published on 1 Nov 2010 by Miss Victoria Ramage
5.0 out of 5 stars Off Season
I was surprised to start reading this book to discover that most of it was set five minutes walk from where I live. Read more
Published on 21 May 2010 by Mr. C. J. Limb
5.0 out of 5 stars Coraline, but better
If I had to describe The Servants in under ten words, I would say: "Coraline, but better, and I loved Coraline. Read more
Published on 25 Mar 2010 by L. R. Richardson
5.0 out of 5 stars a meditation on grief and healing
Although the book adopts the genre of a trditional haunted house and the parallel universes of then and now this conceals a much deeper and richer seam of fiction rarely mined ~... Read more
Published on 28 Jan 2010 by David Spanswick
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