Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Property by Valerie Martin
I picked up Property mainly because it had won the Orange Prize in 2003 and I've yet to be disappointed by the winners. The good news is that Property isn't destined to be the first disappointment; I loved it. It's told in a bare, simplistic style but there's so much emotion and feeling in the story that each word is powerful. Martin doesn't take the easy route of demonising slave owners, rather she attempts to paint a realistic picture of what slave owners at that time would have thought. At times Manon can be almost kind to the slaves, but at others she dismisses them completely, as objects not worthy of human consideration. I appreciated the ambiguity in the writing as a mark of a good writer.
The 'property' in the book doesn't just refer to the ownership of slaves, it also alludes to the ownership of Manon by her husband. On their wedding day, Manon knows next to nothing about him, but her life is in his hands from that moment on. Even when she inherits a property of her own from a relative, Manon isn't free to live in it to escape her domestic situation as legally the property belongs to her husband. In some ways, she is property as much as the slaves are. This extra angle made the book more interesting.
Property isn't a book to pick up if you are after happiness. There's misery in the story from the very first scene and marital abuse and the misuse of slaves are constant parts of the narrative. Even when it seems like things might be looking up for Manon, something else happens to add more misery. But what the story lacks in happy endings, it makes up for in authenticity. The whole thing felt very believable for nineteenth century Louisiana and the characters are so ambiguously written that as a reader, you aren't sure whether you even want them to be happy.
I'm glad I picked up Property. It's a powerfully written and subtle book that I carried on thinking about long after putting it down. Recommended.
First Published: 2003
Score: 4 out of 5
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This sounds good! I'll have to keep an eye out for it to add to my TBR shelf. I like your take on ambiguity being the mark of a good writer - I heartily agree.ReplyDelete
Ambiguity is under-appreciated, isn't it? Hope you enjoy this one, Trish.Delete
I'm glad you weren't disappointed. Martin did a really good job with the characters and all the different undercurrents between them made it fascinating and hard to really know how you felt about anyone. What a crazy and authentic novel.ReplyDelete
Glad you enjoyed it too Nicole :)Delete
I like a book that makes me think, and books that contain characters that are true to life in that they are ambiguous.
This does sound good. I hadn't heard of this author but checking the library catalogue I see she has several on the shelf including Property so I can look forward to reading it myself.ReplyDelete
I hadn't heard of her before this either but I'll definitely be checking out her other books at some point.Delete
I've always meant to read this one, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it.ReplyDelete
You should give it a go :)Delete
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Wow. I've never heard of this but it sounds really interesting. I'll admit that I haven't read as much literature on the topic of slavery as I probably should. It's a very dark topic, but one worth recognizing and analyzing. I'll have to add it to the TBR. I should probably think about reading more titles off the Orange list.ReplyDelete
I'd never heard of it either Beth, it was a random pick from the library. I always intend to read more off the Orange list as they never disappoint. There must be a challenge for it somewhere....?Delete
It sounds excellent. I'll definitely look it up sometime.ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it :)Delete
I just requested this from my local library, thanks for the review! I have a good feeling about this one :)ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it. It gives me a buzz when someone requests a book after I've written about it, it's the best part of book blogging :)Delete
I think that power during this time period was so much more complicated than we often understand. Rich white men were really in charge of everyone and everybody under them was part of a hierarchy.ReplyDelete
I'm glad you enjoyed this book - it's great when a book sticks in your head long after you have finished it.
I really want to read this, mainly for the two completely opposite female points of view it offers!ReplyDelete
Sounds interesting, and maybe a nice pairing with Kindred, which I plan to read this year.ReplyDelete