WARNING - MATURE REFERENCES, SORDID SCENES
Erudite Mondays at HalfSoledBoots
Volume 8 Number 2
Volume 8 Number 2
by Kenneth J Harvey
In my last post I called Blackstrap Hawco the world's most depressing book. I'm revising my statement - it's not the most depressing, it's simply the most disgusting.
Or, okay, I'll add the qualifier that I haven't actually read all the books in the world.
But I did read one written by the Marquis de Sade once, and I tell you here and now that I'd rather read that again than this one, for whatever it's worth.
intense character exploration
Ostensibly the book is about a working-class Newfoundland family. The "family" bit was not much in evidence. Some characters are linked by blood and marriage, but not by friendship or love (unless you count incest, which I really don't). As far as I can remember from the bewildering cacophony of voices, temporal shifts, and narrative psychosis, there are maybe three characters that have any redemptive qualities whatsoever. There is one woman who appears to love her children, there is one young boy who appears to love his mother and siblings, and there is one man who appears to have a smidge of conscience and a sliver of concern for his family.
It seemed to me that, inasmuch as one could say the book is "about" anything, it is about the degradation of the human spirit, the misery of squalor and ignorance, and the consequences of inbreeding.
miserable subject matter.
There's quite a bit of rape in this book. I know this is something a lot of modern (i.e., mid to late 20th century and present) writers seem to think a necessary plot element, but I would like to tell all you authors that it REALLY PISSES ME OFF. Not EVERY SINGLE WOMAN has been raped, y'know, and the whole theme starts to lose its significance as a plot element if EVERY MAN in the ENTIRE NARRATIVE forces himself on anything with a skirt at every possible opportunity. I was starting to hope somebody would rape a guy, just for variety.
But maybe someone did, later on - I wouldn't know. This novel is over 800 pages long. I got to page 195, where the bishop suckles and then rapes the newly postpartum mother, and shut the damn thing. Thought to myself "I think that's all I can read." Later that afternoon, once my stomach had settled a bit, I decided to give it another go. I picked it up and read to page 246, where a prostitute foster mother approvingly witnesses the rape of her ten-year-old foster daughter by a drunken john. The woman thinks it's all part of growing up.
I have no more time I wish to spend on this book. I've read 246 pages and it's going to take a good week of knitting and spinning and embroidering and cooking to expunge that much from vivid memory - I'd hate to think how scarred I might be if I persevered and read the entire miserable tome.
Blackstrap Hawco received glowing reviews from quite a number of fairly qualified people. The Ottawa Xpress, for example, said "There's - thankfully - not a snippet of faux sentimentality here." I think it might show a lack of something-or-other that I couldn't stand to read it...maybe it means I am fauxishly sentimental. Maybe it means I'm, what - shallow? fluffy?
Here's my newspaper-style review quote, where I palliate my conscience by saying something that could be construed as positive.
Kenneth Harvey has beautifully sculpted a terrible work - a textured monument to misery. Its edifice is blackened by time and blood, the chiselwork not fine but brutish. The face of it is scarred and twisted. There are children, rough-hewn, cowering around its feet - frozen in its shadow of hulking threat. Their postures are miserable, anguished. Some people see and avert their gazes, while others are drawn to it. All who see it, turn away changed - whether by revulsion or by inspiration - unable to forget Blackstrap Hawco.
There. My review wasn't ALL bad.
If anyone cares to read this book, leave me a comment to that effect. It might be interesting to have a guest review as a follow-up, and if everything magically comes right and it ends well, if any of the characters finds any kind of redemption or peace or happiness, you can let me know.
HSB Highly Specialised Book Rating System
Blackstrap Hawco gets:
Reread? HELL no, not if it was the last book on earth.
Given to Others? Nope.