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