Beloved (Everyman's Library)

Beloved (Everyman's Library Classics, #268) - Toni Morrison, A.S. Byatt Not an easy read, in more than one sense. I think maybe Morrison was at times too oblique, which I'd ordinarily see as a flaw, but might be a mercy here. I'm still not sure exactly what was done to Sethe, or maybe it's just hard to accept what I think happened. It's a brutal, harrowing book at times. Morrison gives full warning in her foreword--which I think a reader probably should skip actually till afterward, since I think it gives away too much. Morrison based the story on a clipping about a real case involving the Fugitive Slave Laws. She says in that forward that to "invite readers...into the repellant landscape...[of slavery] was to pitch a tent in a cemetery inhabited by highly vocal ghosts." And on the simplest level, Beloved is a ghost story, a haunted house story. Spooky, disturbing, it's all of those things--and I was riveted from the opening lines: 124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom. Parts of the novel were sad and horrifying--especially the last pages of Part One, where Sethe tries to explain herself to Paul. Some parts are surreal--such as the short chapters of stream-of-consciousness monologues, particularly by Beloved. (Not a part I cared for to be honest--deliberately incomprehensible.) A few times I thought a jarring note was sounded. I thought you couldn't get pregnant if you're still lactating, for instance, yet a great deal was made of Sethe breastfeeding one daughter while pregnant with the next. And you know, I really thought I could do without knowing the men on the farm took care of their sexual needs by "fucking cows" as an alternative to rape. Was Morrison trying to play with the idea of slavery making humans bestial? (It's an image and theme that comes up more than once, such as when Paul talks about Sethe having two legs, not four, and when more than once White people are alluded to as seeing Blacks as animals.) Still, this is a haunting book, with images and scenes I won't soon forget. Morrison is also an acclaimed poet, and it often shows in the striking prose.