Friday, 20 March 2009

Thankful for mercies

I am glad to see Toni Morrison's A Mercy on The Orange Prize for Fiction's longlist; although there are an abundance of female American authors on the list this year I am thankful that more readers will be introduced to Toni Morrison. I could be wrong but I think that unless you have come across Morrison through academia or because you have a penchant for reading Oprah-endorsed bookclub reads then you do not necessarily come across her work unless by chance and the Orange shortlist offers this chance . Certain book groups, most likely library ones will attempt to read all of the longlist; libraries will invest in more copies of the books and display them well, as will bookshops; retailers -especially online- will offer bargain deals (hopefully a good one for A Mercy as it isn't published in paperback until June, after the prize is awarded.)

I was lucky enough to attend a reading and interview with Toni Morrison at the Southbank Centre in London on October 28th of last year, two days before the novel was published in the UK; I picked up a signed copy of the book (which I promptly devoured the day after) and heard the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning writer give a reading and an interview. I consider myself privileged to have experienced this; I missed her speak at Glasgow University in '99 and regretted it. It was the night following the day I moved flats in London for the second time in a month (the first time when I moved to the city), not by choice, and was the end to a rather stressful and exhausting week; it was also the first snowfall of Winter and a bitterly cold evening but my boyfriend and I put our big people's hats on and braved the inclemental weather. We weren't disappointed; what my boyfriend lacked in understanding of the reading (she read the prologue, which comes across as quite erudite when listening), he made up for in enjoyment of what she had to say, increasingly so when she turned to her excitement -and trepidation- about the Presidential Elections the following week.

The book itself is short, lyrical, tragic, epic, haunting, memorable, a prelude to the themes of Beloved and is undoubtedly feminist... the narrative and structure are beautiful, covering the viewpoints and stories of five women who are interconnected and who have all been touched and wounded by slavery, in their own ways. Set in the late seventeeth century, the novel explores the origins of slavery; its scope is epic but its shortness in length disallows strong character development, which is a regretful flaw as the women make interesting, intense and memorable characters. The language, its poetic quality, and the biblical themes are all powerful and I am thankful for small mercies when it comes to being introduced to Toni Morrison not merely by chance.


claire said...

Hi. I wandered into your blog because of the name we share. Incidentally, we share similar reading tastes as well, if I'm not mistaken.

You are so lucky to have heard Toni Morrison in person. I didn't get assigned reading in school nor was I familiar with Oprah at the time, but I chanced upon Morrison as a student when I read a review of her new novel at the time, Jazz. I then found Sula and The Bluest Eye after Jazz. A few years later, I read Beloved and Song of Solomon, and the last two just elevated her even more for me. I'm trying to read all her works (and collecting them). Still waiting to get a hand on A Mercy. I'm glad to hear you liked it. I don't think she has ever written a novel that isn't brilliant, so far.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Claire, great name and taste in books!

I recommend A Mercy although it is very different from her other work; it is short, very lyrical and Toni Morrison classed it as "a prelude to Beloved", because of its similar themes.

I have all of her works but still to read them all; I like spacing them out and having something to look forward to.

claire said...

A prelude to Beloved is music to my ears! I have Paradise and Tar Baby waiting on my shelf but, like you, spacing them out. :D