You know when you pick up a book and you don’t even have to pause to wonder whether you’re going to enjoy it? When you’ve heard so much good stuff about the book and the author that you can’t help but be intrigued? When the first sentence, paragraph, page and chapter are so delicious that you know it’ll be a struggle to not devour it all in a single sitting? Well, that was Beloved.
Obviously, Toni Morrison is wonderful. This book was exactly what I expected in terms of amazing storytelling, style of prose and in terms of making me laugh when it wasn’t being so effective at making me cry. It’s, in turn, a horror story, a love story, a coming of age tale, historical fiction, literary fiction, mythology and everything else in between. It’s also fun. Hard to read at times but, on balance, fun.
On the other hand, the storylines themselves were not what I expected. Partly because I go out of my way to avoid knowing too much about a book before I read it but partly because I had just expected something entirely different. One aspect of this is the points of view from which the story is told, from Sethe, the mother, to Paul D who becomes her partner for a while, to her two “daughters,” Beloved and Denver, each has a different experience. The most startling is probably Beloved’s, but the saddest is a toss up between Paul D and Sethe herself – their status’s as ex-slaves made these narratives some of the most difficult to read.
There’s one section of the book where the same part of the story is told in turn by Sethe, Denver and Beloved, the latter getting to tell it twice. It’s bizarre, but it works and it really pulls you in with a sense of increasing dread as the womens’ situation inevitably worsens. That’s a good trick of Morrison’s – she can spend a whole novel hinting at something inevitable and when it finally happens it still feels like a twist. I’ve never read anything quite like it, although Never Let Me Go by Kashuo Ishiguro came kind of close.
It’s hard to review this book without giving away spoilers. So I’m keeping this post short. This is a strong contender for the best book I’ve read this year. Go read it. If you don’t love it I don’t know what to tell you.