Property, by Valerie Martin

PropertyProperty is an interesting novel about slavery in the American South — a novel that, for me, ended too soon. The main character, a young white woman named Manon, is married off to a somewhat older man who keeps one of his slaves, Sarah, as a mistress and has a child with her. It’s by no means a typical “love triangle” — it’s clear that Sarah hates and resents her master just as much as his wife does. When a slave uprising leads to the master’s death, the expectation might be that both women are set free  — but in a way they are more enslaved than ever. This is an extremely well-written short novel that is ruthless and incisive in exploring the evils of slavery and of the subjugation of woman. It also brilliantly avoids the pitfall of making the main character a modern woman in period dress — Manon is caught in a terrible situation and it’s easy to empathize with her, but she is entirely a woman of her times in terms of her view of slavery and her determination to get revenge on Sarah. As a result, she’s not really a likable main character; rather, she’s a character who forces us to recognize how one can be both oppressed and an oppressor.

When the novel ended, I was surprised (I was reading it as an ebook so hadn’t noticed how close to the end I was). It felt abrupt and shocking to have it end when it did, and I felt that I was left hanging with respect to what happened to the characters. I wanted to know more, which speaks to how thoroughly the story drew me in.

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Filed under Fiction -- historical

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