REVIEW: Beloved

“But her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

I received a copy of Beloved in the Books That Matter subscription box and I shamefully had never heard of this book or Toni Morrison before. I have been wanting to tick it off my TBR list ever since it arrived and now, with everything going on in the world, I thought it was a better time than ever to read the book that won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature.

What Did I Think?

OK, I’m not going to lie, I struggled with this book. I had an idea of what it was about but as I started reading it, Toni Morrison’s writing style took me completely by surprise. I am lucky to have a copy that features an author’s note at the beginning of the book, and if it wasn’t for the context that Morrison supplied, I think I would have had even less of an idea of what this book is about.

It took me a while to get used to the way that Morrison writes. She says so many things without saying EXACTLY what she means. Morrison used A LOT of metaphors and literary devices to create the unclear narratives of the main characters, and it wasn’t easy for me to understand what was happening. Yet I think that is the beauty of the novel. Morrison gives you just enough and in doing so, enables you to make your own understanding. She enables you to let your own mind interpret what it can.

I had no idea it was a ghost story either. I was very confused about this bit of the narrative because (again) it wasn’t clear if the baby was in fact a ghost or not, as the main characters spoke of the baby as if she was real. Basically, our protagonist Sethe, is haunted by the spirit of her two-year-old daughter, whom she killed. A story inspired by a true event which featured in a newspaper article that Morrison read.

As I was struggling with the book, I reached out to my Instagram followers to see if any of them had read the book themselves and what they thought of the book (hoping that I wasn’t the only one to struggle). I ended up having a lot of interesting conversations with people who, like me, were fascinated by but struggled with Beloved.

One conversation, with fellow book lover Amy @ Prose Amongst Thorns, was specifically interesting as she introduced the genre of magic realism, in which Beloved sits. Amy told me she had written an assignment on magic realism in literature and explained to me how the spiritual aspects of the story work to highlight important historical observations about the ever-present trauma of American enslavement. As Dr. Kara Johnson @ The Newberry explains, ‘the magical realist genre could be utilised to pronounce even further and lay bare the horrifying historical realities of slavery, as well as their haunting echoes in post-Emancipation America’.

This therefore helps the book to make more sense. The unusual aspects of the story was completely intentional by Morrison, to help readers understand the unusual position of ’emancipated’ Black slaves in America. Black slaves had their identity taken away and replaced with the White American xenophobic status. They were then ‘freed’ from slavery and cast out into a community where they felt like they didn’t belong and a community that was also riddled with the aftermath of slavery. So Morrison does a fabulous job of helping the reader understand this feeling by placing them in a narrative that is muddled and chaotic; much like the experience of the Black community.

I did enjoy the novel but it really tested my reading ability. I’m glad to tick it off the list but it was one I really had to try with. I wish I had studied it at University so I could hear a lecture on it and to discuss it in a seminar. Ahhhh, to relive those uni days!

“I used to think to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place–the picture of it–stays.”

Beloved

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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