It's Toni Morrison's birthday this week. She turned 82, and so in honour of (IMHO) one of the greatest living authors in the world, I thought I would review Beloved - a literary classic, and if you are a fan of the movies, it's also a movie starring Oprah Winfrey as the main character Sethe, probably her finest role ever, on the box or the silver screen.
Beloved was a novel that grabbed me right from its opening line: "124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom". It's a line that is meant to shock and haunt you, and indicates from the start that this is a story that will rattle and unsettle.
Indeed, it's not an easy book to read, but I don't think Morrison's intention as a writer is to write little jewels of stories that will lull you to sleep on rainbow clouds, believing that the world is made of nothing but cotton candy and goodness.
Beloved is about the traumatising scars left behind by American slavery, even after emancipation, but more than that, it's a horrific tale of love gone awry. I am of the firm belief that every book ever written has love at its core - stories are defined by the emotion, even if it's by the very absence of it from the central narrative.
Sethe, the main character of Beloved, is a woman haunted by loss. Her life is defined by the one terrible, horrible thing she did, the one awful decision she made that led to the moment she can't take back and the event she cannot undo.
I have to warn readers that Beloved is a violent book. There will be times when you wish you could wipe parts of the story out of your mind, especially knowing that Morrison is writing about a period in history that really happened, based on a pastiche of true events.
Anyone who ever thought "slavery wasn't all bad" and that apologising for historical wrongs is evidence of a society that is "too PC" should read Beloved. It puts human faces to slavery, using the anguish of a mother's guilt to illustrate how cruel and evil people can be to each other, and how we continue to be today in so many ways. Modern-day slavery exists. All you have to do is question how it is you can buy a T-shirt imported from China for $5 at the sales, about half the price of a Big Mac combo.
There are supernatural elements running through Beloved as well. Which is not to say that it takes a turn for the weird and un-wonderful, like some novels of great promise disappointingly turn out to.
You get the feeling that it's more concerned with the struggle of mankind to find something to believe in, of how people come to terms with religion and what it means to live with a god who either allows bad things to happen for seemingly no reason, or who doesn't exist at all. A great and worthy novel, and a story that will stay with you for lifetimes.
Have you read Beloved?