It may be coincidence that Jon Walter’s first novel, which tells a story set on an American slave plantation, appears so soon after the film adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s slave narrative, Twelve Years a Slave. But there are definite similarities. Samuel, the hero of this story, begins, like Solomon, as a free black who is kidnapped and illegally sold into slavery, although as a child rather than an adult. And, in an afterword, Walter reveals that he relied for historical information, among other sources, on Harriet Jacobs’s slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. He also says that he did not set out to write about slavery or even a historical novel. This may explain the hazy historical context of Samuel’s life in an orphanage for black children before he is sold off, and the scarcely credible circumstances of his kidnap and sale, which are not fully revealed until the end of the story. It is really only when Samuel reaches the plantation that we feel that we are in a fully realised world with strong and complex characters, whose lives are in various ways governed by the South’s ‘peculiar institution’. This is a small plantation, pictured towards the close of the Civil War, when its owner is away fighting and it is left in the hands of his wife and young son, Gerald. Their lives are intimately bound up with those of the people who, at the same time, they hold as property, and buy and sell and cruelly punish at will. Walter’s story appears to owe a lot to earlier literary accounts of slavery, not only slave narratives, which played their part in mobilising Abolitionist sentiment, but also to the classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with Gerald substituting for the saintly Eva, as the white child who wishes to set the slaves free. But Walter tells his own vivid and compelling story. His characters engage and intrigue; the plot is fast moving (sometimes so fast that interesting themes and characters drop out of sight before you feel they have been fully explored); and he exposes tellingly some of the strange contradictions of slavery – the owner who brutally whips her slave in public and then returns in private to salve his wounds. Curiously, for this reader, it is Samuel himself who, as narrator, remains something of an enigma: his relationship with God, with which Walter makes great play, never quite defines him in the way it is intended. However, this is a novel of immense promise. It is fitting that an episode featuring A Christmas Carol should appear for Walter has, like the great man himself, the ability to tell a cracking story filled with memorable characters, and the ambition to tackle big questions.
http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/bfklogo.png 0 0 Angie Hill http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/bfklogo.png Angie Hill2015-09-05 15:44:002021-08-05 15:45:24My Name’s Not Friday