I actually read this book by accident. I was going through my shelves trying to fnd scary books to read before putting them in the Travelling Suitcase Library for my Dark and Stormy Book Swap in Arcadia on Halloween. I soon realised that actually I don’t have that many! But then I read the blurb of this very slim novel, tucked away on the back of one of my shelves, and thought ‘this sounds ace, why haven’t I read this one yet?’. I’d also just finished Interview With The Vampire, which is also set in New Orleans, so fancied a bit more Americana.
Set in New Orleans and Louisiana during a slave revolt in 1828, this is narrated by Manon, a desperatly bitter and unhappy Creole woman married to a boorish and incompetatnt plantation owner. It focuses for the most part on her jealously towards her slave Sarah, who has born two of Manon’s husbands children.
Manon is probably the most unlikeable woman ever put to print, but even though I didn’t want to, I did feel sorry for her. She shows absolutly no empathy or compassion for the people that she owns, when her mother dies her slave Peet ‘is a problem’ to be dealt with rather than a person. The way in which people can completly detatch themselves from other people and see them as possessions is something that I find very very difficult to grasp. Manon is appaulled that her husband beats his slaves, but only because it reflects badly on her, not because he is beating people.
The relationship she has with Sarah is just plain weird. Sarah is raped by the plantation owner, she clearly hates both him and Manon and flees at the first opportunity. What the hell must have been going through Sarah’s head at several times during the book. Yet Manon sees her as competition, rather than another victim of an oppressive system.
This was not an easy book to read, especially during a week I wanted some trash, and though it deservedly won the Orange Prize, as it is a remarkable book, the sort I could see being on school curriculums in the future, I couldn’t see myself recommending it to be honest. There is no redemption, for anyone, and at the end, I sort of felt a bit sick.
Next week, I shall strive to read a book with a half naked man on the cover, as that is more with my current headspace!