When should you read this book? Now. Or if you’re unavailable now, pick a day with torrential rain, make a pillow nest and read with a big cup of coffee.
If fate exists, it must gravitate towards bookshops. Just a few days previously, I had been reading about Toni Morrison and thinking I should look out for a book of hers. I also heard that she’s a favourite of Barrack Obama’s, and if it’s good enough for Big B it’s good enough for me.
I was wandering around the second hand bookshop in Stoke Newington (my new favourite place), and there was Beloved, a little battered and sitting on a dusty shelf, waiting for me. Cue violins, we run towards each other across a meadow, and £2.50 later we are united.
What’s it about?
A little tricky to say in so many words, as there’s a lot going on here, but in essence it’s about a woman, Sethe, who has managed to escape her life as a slave. She builds a home for herself with her daughter, Denver, but her past comes back to haunt her as she has to deal with the death of her nameless baby, known only as Beloved. And Beloved isn’t too happy about the whole thing.
You couldn’t possibly say this book is unoriginal. I have never, ever read any story involving a baby haunting before, and I’ve read a lot of ghost stories. The story unfolds beautifully and there is lots of room for ambiguity and interpretation. Sethe herself is a beautifully wrought, complex protagonist.
I honestly can’t think of any.
Some thought pokers, to poke your thoughts
Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for this bad boy, so you know there’s going to be some good, complicated stuff in here. Like dealing with the legacy of slavery in America, for example. Like dealing with the past refusing to be consigned to history. Like how a great injustice committed in the past keeps nagging away at the future until some peace or resolution is found.
Like all good heart wrenchers, love is a major theme here – particularly maternal love. Sethe demonstrates her love for her children in lots of different, contradictory ways – the idea that in such dire circumstances it’s impossible to know how to do right by the people you love is hugely relatable. But the one thing you never really question is that her love is there.
Overall Beloved gets a…
Have you read any Toni Morrison? What else of hers would you recommend?