Thursday, 1 August 2013

Beloved - 20 years on

"Where words could be spoken that would close your ears shut. Where, if you were alone, feeling could overtake you and stick to you like a shadow. Out there where there were places in which things so bad had happened that when you went near them it would happen again."

It's 20 years since I read Beloved. I remember loving it then and that it made a huge impression on me. But what I remember are the sights, sounds and smells. Where it was set more than what it was about.

A couple of weeks ago I saw it again. It hit me hard, the memory of the book and I remembered feeling drained once I'd read it.

So I picked it up and started again. Twenty years on, knowing more about the world and less of a romantic. Less time to spare but not in a rush to finish.

It's the story of slavery and the experience of slaves. How impossible is to ever be free of it. How one mother kills her child rather than let it lead the life she lived and how that ghost - and many others - come back to haunt her.

It's a story full of pain and it's so much worse now I'm a mother, an aunt, a godmother. I'm hearing, feeling and responding to a completely different story than the one I read before. A story about the desire and drive to protect your children from pain, whatever the cost. 20 years ago I just read it. This week I feel I've lived and breathed every word.

It's stunningly beautiful and just brilliantly written and it carries you along at a sing-song pace - but makes your heart ache. It's packed with detail and full of character. It's a heart-breaking story that you hope ends in peace. Quiet, restful, let-out-a-huge-sigh peace. But when you finish it's impossible to get out of your head.

Phew.

So I'm going to continue this theme and go and find more books that made an impression on me 20 or 30 years ago and see how I like them now.  Next stop is a book my Grandad gave me as a teenager, To Sir with Love. If you do the same, let me know.

Beloved by Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.