Beloved – Cannonball Read #21

Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Beloved is the story of Sethe, an ex-slave. She has escaped slavery and settled down in her mother in law’s house. The house is haunted and we find over the course of the novel that the poltergeist is the spirit of her daughter Beloved, whom Sethe killed when she though they would be taken back to a life of slavery. Beloved shows up at Sethe’s house one day. The novel is an emotional portrait of Sethe who is scarred by the horrific acts that the deep love for her children drove her to.

I was unimpressed with the book.  The prose was almost indecipherable for the first couple of chapters. I could barely make out the plot. I couldn’t tell if Morrison was deliberately trying to confuse the reader or if she just lacked the skill to carry off the writing style she was attempting. After the opening chapters the prose became easier to comprehend but the narrative was completely predictable. The method of Beloved’s death is hinted at for two thirds of the book but I knew immediately what had happened.

My experience of Beloved was tainted by the seminal  nature of the book. Before it was published there was no widely available, critically acclaimed novel illustrating the psychological impact of slavery. Because Beloved was so widely acclaimed it has entered the public subconscious. It had nothing new to tell me because its message has so permeated the culture I inhabit.  Beloved gets credit for paving the way for serious novels about slavery, for making a huge impact on modern American thought about the experience of slavery for black women.  It just doesn’t get credit for being an enjoyable read.


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