Sunday, 19 June 2011


Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning Beloved (1987) has been on my bookshelf in the ‘to be read’ pile for almost twenty years. Back in the mid-1990s I was on a Morrison roll – reading Tar Baby (1981), Song of Solomon (1977), and Jazz (1992), as well as Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power (1992), in rapid succession. But for some unknown reason I had not read this book until now.

Beloved is set in the late 1800s and is the story of a slave named Sethe who lived on a Kentucky plantation, ironically named ‘Sweet Home’. After escaping slavery, Sethe is found by her master who tries to reclaim her. Rather than return her four children to the brutality of slavery, Sethe slays her two-year-old daughter and tries to kill her other children.

Later, in Cincinnati, Sethe lives with her daughter Denver in a house haunted by a ghost who is exorcised by Paul D, another Sweet Home slave. Shortly after, a young woman named Beloved arrives, who Sethe believes is her murdered daughter. Beloved changes the dynamics of all who live in the house and forces Sethe to confront her past.

I admire Toni Morrison but find I need to be in a certain mood to read her novels. Her writing is poetic, rhythmic and complex. There is a beauty to her writing despite her description of dark themes like rape, infanticide, murder, slavery and torture. The supernatural themes and non-linear story telling were problematic for me. While I did not enjoy Beloved as much as some of Morrison’s other books, it has stayed with me and I think of it often. Definitely liked rather than loved.