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A Mercy

A Mercy - Toni Morrison This was my first Morrison and having heard so many people rave about her books I have to say I was disappointed.

I enjoyed the story of the farmer but my favourite narrator was Lina. Although her story is shocking and horrific she maintains her humanity. She is kind and caring towards others and able to cope with the practicalities of life on the farm. She is the only ‘whole’ person in the story.
The farmer’s wife is a pretty standard uncomplicated character, buffeted around by the waves of fortune. She is a little pathetic and spoiled. Kind enough when life is going well but lacking the strength of character necessary to withstand the trials of life without becoming bitter and selfish.
Solitude is also a character I liked despite the fact that her character is so detached from the world that we only really come to know her in the last few pages. She is obviously someone who has been severely hurt but is slowing recovering, sheltered from the outside world by her isolation on the farm.

The one character I disliked was Florens. At first she seemed to be simply ego-centric only concerned with what she desired and convinced that everyone else’s actions were an attempt to prevent her. As the story progressed it became clear that she was sociopathic and totally unable to empathise with no concept of the feelings or motivations of those around her and with no sense of guilty about her actions only a fear of the consequences. At times during Florens’ narration I felt I was seeing the world through the eyes of an instinct driven ‘primal being’. It was a disturbing sensation.

The other main characters give us some insight into life at that time. The farmer must deal with a plantation owner he despised and the wife is a kind simple soul so totally dependent on her husband. Lina and Solitude have endured the traumatic loss of their families and their way of life and now, having finally found some peace, face uncertainty with the death of their master.
But Florens offers us no insight in to life as someone born a slave. She is brought up in a loving family, within a caring community that, at great risk, provides her with an above average education. But the author offers us no hint as to how that affected her life.
And as to the ‘revelation’ in the final pages concerning why her mother had given her up, was it not obvious? The only aspect of those events that surprised me was the fact that Florens seeming unable to comprehend her mother’s reasoning and as a result held such a grudge against her.
There seemed to be little reason for Florens to exist in the story other than to provide the the author an opportunity to write in such an unusual style.

Starting the book from Florens’ point of view, with her semi-coherent stream of consciousness the author is being willfully inaccessible, tying to alienate the reader. After a couple of pages I had reached my limit and decided that ‘if it carries on like this’ I would give up.
A surreptitious flip through to the middle of the book revealed that Florens wasn’t the only narrator. So I continued.

Another problem with the book was, although I did enjoy most of the writing and was quite interested by the stories of Lina and Solitude, nobody evolved, their lives merely changed as a function of time. In the end this left me feeling ‘So what?’.

Throughout out the whole story it felt as if the the author was holding back, keeping the characters at arm’s length, concerned that by becoming too emotionally involved she would compromise her reputation as as ‘literary author’.

This was a good series of character sketches more suitable as a collection of connected short stories rather than as a single narrative of a novella.