This month, we are delighted to have a book choice from writer Louise Doughty, the author of nine novels including Platform Seven (2019), Black Water, (2016) and bestseller Apple Tree Yard (2013), which was also adapted into a television series starring Emily Watson.
I’d like to choose Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison, was first published in 1987 but is now widely regarded as one of the great American novels of all time. It is set in the mid-nineteenth century, after the Civil War, and is about a slave called Sethe who has escaped to a free state. When it looks as though her former slavemasters are about to catch up with her, Sethe kills her own child rather than see her taken into slavery. She can only afford one word to be chiselled on the gravestone and that word is Beloved.
We all know about the horrors of slavery, of course, but this novel is also a great work of art, painting a picture of people in their full humanity struggling with the psychic legacy of what has happened to them – and it shows us the way that trauma is passed on through the generations. Beloved won a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted as a 1998 movie starring Oprah Winfrey – Morrison herself went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. All this makes it sound like Beloved might be a dense read but it’s also leavened by wit and humour and characters you root for so hard that your heart breaks when life defeats them. I was in my early twenties when I read it. It opened my eyes to the full appalling legacy of this terrible chapter in American history and taught me what is possible in a novel – I knew I was holding in my hands a contemporary book that was destined to become a classic. When Toni Morrison died last year (2019) I felt, like many others, that we had lost one of our greats.
Thank you very much to Louise for this wonderful choice. View all our Book of the Month choices here.