Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of Sethe and the horrors she and her friends endured while working as slaves and the lives they try to forge for themselves afterwards. Sethe eventually managed to ran away from her life as a slave with her four children (one of whom she was carrying) but later when she realised she would be recaptured and her children would again be forced to live their live's as slaves, she began to harm her children and succeeded in killing one.

There is a supernatural element to the book as Sethe's murdered baby daughter haunts the house she lives in. The spirit of the dead child seems full of anger and rage. As Sethe continues living in her house with her surviving daughter she is cut off and ostracised from the community for her crimes and her life as a slave begins to be told in flashbacks.

These events were based loosely on a slave called Margaret Garner who did run away and then did kill her child when the house she was staying at was set upon by slave catchers and US Marshalls. More details on the life of Margaret and the events surrounding her recapture can be found here.

The setting for book alone immediately tells the reader that they are entering difficult and disturbing territory but this is not a book filled with gruesome horrors of slavery but rather more subtle questions are brought to the forefront; is a slave owner who treats their slaves well really better in principle as a slave owner who treats his slaves badly? Questions like these are pondered over by Sethe's friends as they think over and remember their experiences.

This is not an easy read because Toni Morrison really makes you work as a reader. The text is so dense and at times I had to re-read a paragraph several times in order to make sure I understood it. I was advised by Jackie at farmlanebooks to look up the sparknotes for this novel which I ended up doing as there were still bits of the story I was missing even though I was reading it very slowly and carefully. But despite this it never crossed my mind to stop reading, something always made me pick it up and carry on. Perhaps because this dense and heavy style of writing suited the story and the narrative.

This is a very rich and very layered book with some fascinating and indepth characters. I was quite amazed at how Toni Morrison was able to easily mix flashbacks, domestic life, horrors and supernatural elements while feeding the reader the whole story in pieces throughout. I felt a little exhausted after I finished reading it but in a good way.

Would I recommend it? Yes but be prepared to work at it.

Posted by Jess


  1. I have actually never read this book. I probably will some day, because it sounds good from your review, but I'm just not feeling into "heavy" books at the moment. I don't know, sometimes all I want to do is read Les Miserables and Anna Karenina, and other times I just want to read YA and chick lit. Huh.

  2. Zara - avoid if you dont want to do heavy, its only 300 pages but it takes ages to read. I would also love to read Les Miserables but the size puts me off somewhat.

  3. I was thinking of picking up another Morrison. The only other I have read is "The Bluest Eye," which I absolutely loved. This one sounds like a heavy read, so perhaps I might wait a bit on this!

  4. I didn't enjoy reading this book very much, but once I finished and started reading the notes I began to appreciate it more. Over time I become more and more impressed with it - I forget about how hard it was to understand and only remember the powerful scenes. I don't think I'll ever forget the mother in the shed with her babies :-(

  5. I haven't read anything by Morrison but I've heard so much about her books and her writing. I hadn't realized how dark this book is, but I am intrigued enough to consider picking it up!

  6. Allie - it depends on your mood. Its not a differcult read in terms of the lanuage its just heavy.

    Jackie - Im glad I had spark notes as Im sure otherwise I woudldnt have apprieated it as much as I do. When it came to writing a review I realise how much was packed in there and how layered it really was.

    Amy - I havent touched this book in the above reivew as its so involved and there is so much in there so I do hope you pick it up.

  7. I read this back in 2006 on my daughters recommendation and also found it very dense and complex although I did enjoy it. I did not have my Book review blog then but if you are interested I did still review it on Bookcrossing.

  8. Toni Morrison really intimidates me.

  9. Lindy - I think I pretty much ageed with you on this one, thanks for linking your review.

    Amanda - she wasnt easy to read thats for sure but it was worth it.