The backstory: Property won the Orange Prize in 2003.
The basics: Set in 1828 Louisiana, Property focuses on Manon Gaudet,the bored, unhappy wife of a slave owner who has fathered the oldest child of Sarah, a slave, and continues to sleep with her. The two women hate one another, and they both hate Mr. Gaudet.
My thoughts: Manon is a fascinating character. It would be too easy to say she's not likable, as truly, her life was wretched. Martin sums up Manon's temperament brilliantly: "feeling thoroughly bored and aggravated by the whole business." It applies to so many situations. Still, as wretched as Manon's life is, she is a slave owner of some privilege. She is married to a man she despises and now lives in the country, which she is not too fond of either. Her relationship with Sarah is tenuous and fascinating, and it brings out Manon's cruelness. Despite her lack of love for her husband, Manon harbors jealousy of Sarah in some way. Sarah's relationship with Mr. Gaudet frees Manon of some obligation, for which she is grateful, yet she never manages to see Sarah as a teammate of sorts, united against an evil man.
Favorite passage: "After that everything happened quickly, thought it felt as if time itself had fallen open like a book, and each new impression was completed, even recollected, before the next began."
The verdict: Property is a gritty novel. It provides a glimpse into life on a Louisiana plantation in 1828, and it's not pretty, for slaves or owners. I was haunted by the proliferation of evil and utter lack of humanity. It's a powerful novel, and while I had certain expectations for a novel of slavery, Property both fulfilled the expected and transcended it. Martin is a talented writer, and there were several surprises, in both timing and action.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 196 pages
Publication date: February 18, 2003
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