Thursday, January 19, 2012

book review: Property by Valerie Martin

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
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Property from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository, or Amazon (Kindle version).

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

18 comments:

  1. It's sad to think of how they both hate Mr. Gaudet yet feel so much hatred for each other as well. Sounds like an intense book.

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    1. It was certainly intense, but as I think back on it now, I remember the characters more than the intensity. Perhaps that's partly because I'm reading the slavery chapter of A People's History of the United States though!

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  2. After reading your review, I just requested this one from the library. It sounds like it is intense, as Jenny mentioned, and that there are a lot of subtleties when it comes to the relationship between the two women. This was a fantastic review, and I am excited about checking it out! Thanks for sharing this today!

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    1. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on it. I hope you like it!

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  3. This makes me shudder, in a good way -- I've never read any of Martin's books before (this seems to be a recurrent refrain of mine when I'm commenting on your reviews!) but I want to -- and maybe I'll start with this one. It sounds miserable/awesome.

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    1. It was my first Martin novel too, and I'm eager to dig into more of her historical novels!

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  4. Your review has piqued my interest, and since the university library has the book, I'm on my way across campus the check it out. Thanks!

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    1. Heather, I would love to hear your thoughts once you read it!

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  5. I've had this book on my shelf for a while, and haven't read it. Happy to see you really liked it.

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    1. Diane,that seems to be a popular sentiment! I'm really enjoying going through and reading more backlist titles this year. I hope you pick it up soon too!

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  6. I saw this post and immediately - before reading this - had to check if the author was the same who wrote Mary Reilly - yes! :) I think she is a very good writer. This story, however, sounds most difficult.

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    1. Care, I'm glad to hear you so enjoyed Mary Reilly. I'm eager to try more Martin, and all I knew of that novel was the movie, and I recall hearing less than flattering things about it. Thanks for the suggestion!

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  7. I have this one on my shelf. Someone recommended it years ago and I really need to get to it. I'm so glad it's good.

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    1. Melissa, I hope you make time for this one (perhaps a Louisiana Reading the States pick?!) I'd love to hear your thoughts on it when you do!

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  8. No shocker here - I read this one too and liked it a lot. Her book Trespass is equally brutal, but different. I recommend it.

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    1. Thanks for the tip, Gayle! I'm eager to read more of her books.

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  9. Oh, this sounds right up my alley! Just ordered it :)

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    1. Melody, I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts on it!

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