This is the story of that mother named Sethe, and her dead daughter Beloved. This is also a story of slavery set about the time before, during, and after the civil war in America.
So, based on my summary above, you know it is not a light book, not an easy read. It’s emotionally very wearying. It’s not a long book by any means, it’s not even particularly hard to read when it comes to the vocabulary. But, it’s hard to read huge chunks at one go without wanting to weep or get into a murderous rage…depending on the reader’s personality.
It’s also hard to write my thoughts about the book. I struggled with a book review without trying to reveal any spoilers, but it came out all bland and didn’t convey anything to anyone. So, this is my second draft and I decided to just put one of the plot spoilers upfront and then free myself to write the rest of the review without any stress. I hope that doesn’t spoil the review for anyone.
In addition, I knew this spoiler before I read the book, and I think it made it a little easier for me to read. It gave me the context I needed because the first section of the book is very confusing. There are a lot of names thrown around and it’s not easy to make the connections between people.
The names are also very confusing. I always thought Halle was a girl’s name (Halle Berry, duh), but in this book it’s a man’s name. It took me some time to figure it all out. It helped for me to know that yes, Sethe kills her child Beloved. And then read the rest of the book to figure out the whys, the wherefores, the final impact, and the retribution.
It also helps to know before you start reading what exactly I mean when I say this is a hard book to read emotionally. This book is not a banned book for nothing. There are frequent and graphic references to rape, extreme racist violence, sex with animals, and a childbirth scene that leaves Breaking Dawn’s childbirth scene look like a walk in the park.
It’s also hard to read how an entire race was kept so backward for so long. There is a section where a newly freed slave is so happy when he receives a coin for helping somebody load stuff in a van. He walks around with the coin, and is so amazed that he can go into a shop and buy something with it. It’s just written so beautifully, and so much from the heart.
And that’s why I love this book. The writing just feels like an outpouring from the heart. You can feel every emotion felt by Sethe, and the other characters in the story in their own voices.
But, there was stuff I didn’t love either…
- It’s great that Morrison writes in the colloquial lingo used by the people in that time. However, this sometimes makes the lingo hard to understand.
- The story also shifts back and forth between the past and present, without any kind of introduction. Time itself seems like a variable in the story. It’s incredibly hard to figure out when things happen, and if you are like me, it does put a spoke in things. I really wanted to know what happens when just so that I could put a timeline on events, but it doesn’t happen.
- This has got to be the only book I read where there is an entire chapter without any kind of punctuation whatsoever. Incredibly hard to figure out what’s going on. Thankfully, it doesn’t really impact the rest of the story in any way.
- The plot that Morrison uses to illustrate the issues of slavery and the black people of that time is ludicrous in the extreme. A baby ghost haunting a family, oh please, but when I got over the silly plot, and got over wanting to know about the ghost, and about Beloved’s identity, I realized I loved the book. This is really a book where the story plays second fiddle to the issues and the writing. If you want a regular, structured, neatly wrapped story in the classical format, skip this book. If you are interested in an experimental form of writing and story structure, then you must, must read this book.
This is the first book I read as part of The Classics Club reading challenge and I just loved it, and highly recommend it to all classic lovers.
- Powerful story and writing
- Incredibly moving
- Writing is very hard to follow at times
- One of those very literary novels that's hard to get at first
- The ghost aspect of the book didn't really work for me