I was tempted by this book back in 2017 after reading James’ Booker Prize winner A Brief History of Seven Killings but I procrastinated until I finally nominated it for a Booker Group read. Here I am.
This is a long and intense book so I took frequent breaks as I listened and read. The subject matter is quite grim. There is more violence than in Blood Meridian but not nearly as much history or good writing. Nonetheless it’s brilliant in its own way – if you can skim some of the brutality.
The Book of Night Women
by Marlon James
2009 / 444 pages
read by Robin Miles – 15h 45m
rating: 9 / historical fiction
(read and listened)
Jamaica, in 1800-1801 was a sugar-cane colony belonging to England. African slaves were introduced during Spanish rule and a few had escaped bondage during the transition to create their own separate and independent society – the Maroons.
This book opens in 1800 with a green-eyed girl, named Lilith by her owner, killing another slave and being transferred to another plantation. Someone else was killed as punishment for Lilith’s crime.
The story moves from there to the relationships between the slave women, one old European woman. and a few European men as well as other matters of the plantations. The main slave woman other than Lilith is Homer who hails from Africa, is older and quite a leader.
Lilith is quite independent minded and never knew her mother or father although it becomes apparent that her mother died and her father is a white overseer of some sort on the plantation. She becomes Homer’s “daughter” in many ways but also struggles against her.
Naturally some complications arise in terms of “race” or ethnicity and so on with Blacks, Creoles, Mulattos, and Whites tangling and loving and murdering. The main theme is revenge I suppose. And what happens to morality when people are damaged beyond recognition – maybe beyond redemption.
It’s a good book but not for the faint of heart. I would have put it right down had it been by an author less skilled with language ( Jamaican patois and some British) and the nuances of all sorts of relationships between field and house slaves, male and female slaves plus owners and overseers and disciplinarians and British wives and mulatto lovers and the whole gamut. There are old resentments and new jealousies plus changing alliances and various enemies thrown together with love and babies and killing and some religious practices from the original continents.
The book probably needs two readings at least but I’m afraid there’s just too much very graphic violence of all kinds, sexuaall and war-type and accidental as well as one-on-one vengeance, for me to do it.