I have previously received PR products from Penguin.
TWs: killing of a child, rape, racism, slavery.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved has been on my radar for a long time, as a lover of literature, but it has taken me a shockingly long time to get to. Going into this book, I knew it was about a dead child, and being Black in America, and I also vaguely knew that it was a ghost story of sorts, but I had half forgotten the ghost element until it was actually introduced in the book. The narrative focuses around Sethe and her two daughters, Denver (alive) and Beloved (dead). As can be guessed from the themes the books discusses — family, womanhood, race, grief and survival — this is a book for mature readers, and not for anyone looking for a lighthearted read.
Having said this, there are definitely moments of joy in this book. There’s a scene that really stood out to me of the three women ice skating or rather trying to iceskate. These tone changes throughout the book are regular, as Morrison flips between perspectives, time periods, emotions and themes. Balancing such a thematically heavy book with so many different emotions is a difficult task, but Morrison manages it with ease. Sometimes, reading books like this can feel like a rollercoaster, with tone changes coming suddenly and without warning, but in Beloved, the tone changes seemed to be a natural progression, with none of the whiplash that can often accompany it.
The characters themselves, especially the three main women, are all really well-written characters. They have strong personalities that comes through in their voices, and they are all very distinct from one another. Beloved in particular was an interesting character — obviously the reader realises from the start that she is some sort of ghost, or reincarnation perhaps, of the dead child Sethe buried. Despite knowing that this was the same girl that haunted Sethe and Denver’s home, 124, I still trusted this flesh-and-blood young woman from the moment she appeared. The mystery of Beloved is somewhat untangled as the book goes on, but is never truly resolved, which I was glad for. She takes on the roles of sister, daughter, angel, spirit, ghost and demon, sometimes many at the same time.
With the mystery of Beloved at the centre of the plot, Denver and Sethe seem to revolve around her. Sethe’s background is steadily revealed across a series of flashback chapters, which are the heaviest in the story. The triggers I mentioned at the start of the review are mostly present in these flashbacks, though of course the effects of these incidents is something that can be felt throughout the story. The plot itself is fairly sparse, with the focus on the characters themselves driving the story. I am a fan of character driven stories, as you probably already know if you follow my reviews! The characters’ joy was so strong at parts of this book that I was almost convinced that it could last. Of course, Morrison doesn’t let us off that easily.
I mentioned it a little earlier, but there are some other aspects of Morrison’s writing that I wanted to mention. At points in Beloved, the narrative voice switches, which is something that often confuses or disorients me, but the characters were so distinct that I could easily tell when the narrative voice had changed. As a broader point as well, her prose is excellent. It flows so well, and kept me engaged throughout the book. I found myself getting through this pretty quickly despite the heavy subject matter because the writing was so engaging, and also because the plot was unravelled so skilfully that I was always wanting to keep going, to find out what happened to the characters.
Beloved is a really important piece of literature and if you’re one of many looking to diversify the kinds of stories you read, I think this is an important one to add, to develop your understanding of the history of race, racism and Black womanhood in America. Another book in a similar vein I would recommend is The Color Purple, so if you have read one but not the other, I would recommend giving the other one a go. Bernadine Evaristo’s [Also published by Penguin, who have sent me PR products in the past] Girl, Woman, Other is another I would recommend for a modern examination of Black British womanhood. I am always looking for diverse recommendations, so leave some ideas in the comments for me!
3 thoughts on “Beloved – Toni Morrison: Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS”
[…] Beloved – Toni Morrison. 4.5 stars.Beautifully heartbreaking classic tale of love, loss, race and family.Find my review here. […]
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[…] Find my review (including trigger warnings) here. […]
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