In the troubled years following the Civil War, the spirit of a murdered child haunts the Ohio home of a former slave. This angry, destructive ghost breaks mirrors, leaves its fingerprints in cake icing, and generally makes life difficult for Sethe and her family; nevertheless, the woman finds the haunting oddly comforting for the spirit is that of her own dead baby, never named, thought of only as Beloved.
A dead child, a runaway slave, a terrible secret–these are the central concerns of Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved.
Beloved is a dense, complex novel that yields up its secrets one by one. As Morrison takes us deeper into Sethe’s history and her memories, the horrifying circumstances of her baby’s death start to make terrible sense. And as past meets present in the shape of a mysterious young woman about the same age as Sethe’s daughter would have been, the narrative builds inexorably to its powerful, painful conclusion. Beloved may well be the defining novel of slavery in America, the one that all others will be measured by.
This book has won a number of awards, which elevated my expectations of it. I’ve also heard nothing but wonderful things about Toni Morrison’s writing, which inflated my expectations a little more. This is why it is so hard for me to admit that I didn’t really like this novel.
There’s nothing offensive or unlikeable about Beloved. There wasn’t a point where I decided I disliked it. I just never felt connected to the characters or the story. I was appropriately horrified at the portrayal of slavery and the multitude of atrocities that were committed against Sethe and her family. I empathized with Sethe and I understood the reasons behind her actions. I thought the writing was beautiful and parts of the story were hauntingly moving. However, I just didn’t…like it. I think it’s because there’s an aspect of the paranormal to this novel, which I wasn’t expecting. That may be the core problem behind my dislike. I went into this book expecting one thing and got another. I just really disliked the story and where Morrison decided to go with it.
Another core problem I had with this book is that the message is so heavy handed. I felt like Morrison beat the reader over the head with her message. I also didn’t really like the strange structure of the book – jumping from past to present, stream of consciousness, and then to surrealism. It was overkill.
I feel like maybe this was the wrong Toni Morrison novel to start off with. I plan to try another one and hopefully will find myself enjoying that one a lot more.