Property

Property

by Valerie Martin

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

Valerie Martin’s Property delivers an eerily mesmerizing inquiry into slavery’s venomous effects on the owner and the owned. The year is 1828, the setting a Louisiana sugar plantation where Manon Gaudet, pretty, bitterly intelligent, and monstrously self-absorbed, seethes under the dominion of her boorish husband. In particular his relationship with her slave Sarah, who is both his victim and his mistress.
Exploring the permutations of Manon’s own obsession with Sarah against the backdrop of an impending slave rebellion, Property unfolds with the speed and menace of heat lightning, casting a startling light from the past upon the assumptions we still make about the powerful and powerful.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375713309
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/13/2004
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 288,183
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

 Valerie Martin is the author of two collections of short fiction and six novels, including Italian Fever, The Great Divorce, and Mary Reilly. Her most recent book is a nonfiction work on St. Francis of Assisi: Salvation: Scenes from the Life of St. Francis. She resides in upstate New York.

Read an Excerpt

IT NEVER ENDS. I watched him through the spyglass to see what the game would be. There were five of them. He gets them all gathered at the river's edge and they are nervous. If they haven't done this before, they've heard about it. First he reads to them from the Bible. I don't have to hear it to know what passage it is. Then they have to strip, which takes no time as they are wearing only linen pantaloons. One by one they must grasp the rope, swing over the water, and drop in. It's brutally hot; the cool water is a relief, so they make the best of it. He encourages them to shout and slap at one another once they are in the water. Then they have to come out and do it again, only this time they hang on the rope two at a time, which means one has to hold on to the other. They had gotten this far when I looked.

Two boys were pulling the rope, one holding on while the other clutched his shoulders. They were laughing because they were slippery. The sun made their bodies glisten and steam like a horse's flanks after a long run. The boy on the ground ran down the bank and off they went, out over the water, releasing the rope at the highest point of its arc and crashing into the smooth surface below like wounded black geese. He hardly watched them. He was choosing the next two, directing one to catch the rope on its return, running his hands over the shoulders of the other, which made the boy cower and study the ground. I couldn't watch anymore.

They have to keep doing this, their lithe young bodies displayed to him in various positions. When he gets them up to three or four at a time, he watches closely. The boys rub against each other; they can't help it. Their limbs become entwined, they struggle to hang on, and it isn't long before one comes out of the water with his member raised. That's what the game is for. This boy tries to stay in the water, he hangs his head as he comes out, thinking every thought he can to make the tumescence subside. This is what proves they are brutes, he says, and have not the power of reason. A white man, knowing he would be beaten for it, would not be able to raise his member.

He has his stick there by the tree; it is never far from him. The boys fall silent as he takes it up. Sometimes the offending boy cries out or tries to run away, but he's no match for this grown man with his stick. The servant's tumescence subsides as quickly as the master's rises, and the latter will last until he gets to the quarter. If he can find the boy's mother, and she's pretty, she will pay dearly for rearing an unnatural child.

This is only one of his games. When he comes back to the house he will be in a fine humor for the rest of the day.

Often, as I look through the glass, I hear in my head an incredulous refrain: This is my husband, this is my husband.

IN THE MORNING he was in a fury because Mr. Sutter has gotten into such a standoff with one of the negroes that he has had him whipped and it will be a week before he can work again. They are cutting wood in shifts and there are no hands to spare, or so my husband has persuaded himself. The negro, Leo, is the strongest worker we have. He maintains Leo was never a problem until Sutter decided he was insolent. Sutter's real grievance, he says, is that Leo has befriended a woman Sutter wants for himself. I had to listen to all this at breakfast. He cursed and declared he would kill Sutter, then sent back the food, saying it was cold. Sarah went out with the plate. He leaned back in his chair and put his hand over his eyes. "She's poisoning me," he said.

When Sarah came back, he pretended to soften. "Is Walter in the house?" he asked. "Send him to me."

So then we had the little bastard running up and down the dining room, putting his grubby fingers in the serving plates, eating bits of meat from his father's hand like a dog. Sarah leaned against the sideboard and watched, but she didn't appear to enjoy the sight much more than I did. The child is a mad creature, like a beautiful and vicious little wildcat. It wouldn't surprise me to see him clawing the portieres. He has his father's curly red hair and green eyes, his mother's golden skin, her full pouting lips. He speaks a strange gibberish even Sarah doesn't understand. His father dotes on him for a few minutes now and then, but he soon tires of this and sends him away to the kitchen, where he lives under the table, torturing a puppy Delphine was fool enough to give him. Once the boy was gone, he turned his attention to Sarah. "Go down and see to Leo," he said. "And give me a report in my office when you have done."

She nodded, eyes cast down. Then he pushed back his chair and went out without speaking to me.

"He thinks you are poisoning him," I said when he was gone, watching her face. Something flickered at the corner of her mouth; was it amusement? "I'll have more coffee," I said.

ON THE PRETENSE that she is of some use to me, I had Sarah in my room all morning with the baby she calls Nell, a dark, ugly thing, but quiet enough. He hates the sight of this one. It's too dark to be his, or so he thinks, though stranger things have happened, and everyone knows a drop of negro blood does sometimes overflow like an inkpot in the child of parents who are passing for white, to the horror of the couple and their other children as well. Somehow Sarah has prevailed upon my husband, with tears and cajoling, I've no doubt, to let her keep this baby in the house until it is weaned. At first she had it in the kitchen, but she was up and down the stairs a hundred times a day, which made him so irritable he demanded that I do something about it. I told Sarah to bring a crate from the quarter and put it in the corner of my room, which earned me one of her rare straightforward looks that I take to mean she's pleased.

It was so hot, I had her fan me. So there we sat, I with my eternal sewing, Sarah plying the fan, and the baby sleeping in her box. She has rigged the box out absurdly with a ticking mattress stuffed with moss and covered by a rag quilt. She even tacked a loop of willow across the middle to hold up a piece of mosquito net. "Is she a princess?" I said when I saw this ridiculous contraption. "If she not itchy, she won' cry," Sarah replied. This, I had to admit, was a reasonable assertion. It is one of the annoying things about her; on those occasions when she bothers to speak, she makes sense.

After a while the baby whimpered. Sarah took it up to suckle, holding it in one arm and working the fan with the other. She had pulled her chair up behind mine so I couldn't watch this process, but I could hear the nuzzling, snuffling sound, mewing a little now and then like a kitten. I don't understand why she is so determined to suckle this one, as it will be passed down to the quarter as soon as it's weaned and sold away when it is old enough to work. He won't get much for her. Ugly, dark little girls aren't easy to sell. It would be a good joke on him if he had to give her away.

Eventually I grew bored and tried talking to her, a largely hopeless enterprise. "You went down to tend to Leo?" I said.

"I did," she replied.

"Is he bad?"

"He'll live."

"Who did the whipping?"

"I don' know."

So much for conversation.

AT DINNER HE was gloomy. The new rollers for the sugar press have come. He spent the morning trying to get them installed and cut his hand badly in the process. It is all Sutter's fault because he couldn't use Leo, who has more experience with the press than anyone on the place. He had to call in two boys from the field who didn't know their right hands from their left and couldn't hold up their own pants. If Sutter wanted to whip boys near to death, he said, why couldn't he choose worthless ones like these two and not the only useful negro on the place.

When Sarah brought the potatoes in, he took a spoon from the bowl straight to his mouth and then spat it into his plate. "Are we not possessed of a warming dish in this house!" he cried out. Sarah picked up the bowl, pulled the plate away, and headed for the door. He wiped his mouth vigorously with his napkin, swallowed half a glass of wine. "I swear she puts them in the icehouse."

I looked at him for a few moments blankly, without comment, as if he was speaking a foreign language. This unnerves him. It's a trick I learned from Sarah. "Since there are no servants presently available, Mistress Manon," he said, "I'll have to prevail on you to serve me some meat."

I got up, went to the sideboard, and served out a few slices of roast. When I set the plate in front of him, he attacked it like a starving man. Sarah came back in carrying a bowl wrapped in a cloth which sent up a puff of steam when she opened it. He grunted approval as she spooned a portion onto his plate.

I went to my place but couldn't bring myself to sit down. "I have a headache," I said. "I'll have dinner later in my room." He nodded, then, as I was leaving, he said, "I would like to speak to you in my office before supper."

"Would four o'clock be convenient?" I said.

"Yes," he replied through a mouthful of food.

HE PRIDES HIMSELF on being different from his neighbors, but his office looks exactly like every planter's office in the state: the good carpet, the leather-topped desk, the engravings of racehorses, the Bible with the ribbon marker that never moves, employed as a paperweight, the cabinet stocked with strong drink. I kept him waiting a quarter of an hour to irritate him. When I went in he was sitting at the desk poring over his account books. He does this by the hour, totaling up long lists of supplies and others of debt. Without looking at me, he observed, "Someone is stealing corn."

"Are you sure there's no mistake in your figures?" I asked.

He looked up. "Will you sit down?" he said, gesturing to a chair. I was so surprised by his civil tone that I did as he asked, and busied myself arranging my skirts until he should be moved to reveal the motive of his summons.

"Three of Joel Borden's negroes ran away on Sunday," he began. "Last night one of them broke into Duplantier's smokehouse. The houseboy saw him and raised the alarm, but they didn't catch him. Duplantier says he was carrying a pistol, though where he got it no one knows. Borden isn't missing any firearms."

"I see," I said.

"So they're coming this way."

"Yes," I agreed.

"They'll probably try to pass through the bottomland and get to the boat landing. I'm joining the patrol at dark. I've got two sentries I can trust here; they'll be moving around all night. I'll lock the house and put the dogs in the kitchen."

"Delphine is afraid of the dogs."

"Well, she'll just have to be afraid," he said impatiently. "She'll be a heap more scared if one of these bucks comes through the window with a pistol."

"That's true," I said.

"I want you and Sarah to stay in your room, lock the door, and don't come out for anything until I come back."

I kept my eyes down. "Wouldn't it be better for Sarah to stay in the kitchen with Delphine?"

"Don't worry about Delphine. She'll have Walter and Rose with her."

Walter is a mad child and Rose a flighty girl. Neither would be of much use in a crisis. "And Sarah will be safer with me," I observed.

"You'll be safer together," he corrected me, scowling at my impertinence, then neatly changing the subject. "It's all Borden's fault. He doesn't half-feed his negroes and his overseer is the meanest man on earth. The ham they got from Duplantier was probably the first decent food they'd had in a year."

"Is Joel here or in town?"

"He came up quick enough when he heard about it. Now he's grumbling that he'll be out two thousand dollars if we kill them. Not one man on the patrol is going to risk his life to save one of these damned runaways. If we can find them, they'll be better off dead than dragged back to Borden's overseer, and I've no doubt they know it."

"Then they must be desperate."

He gave me a long look, trying to detect any mockery in this remark. Evidently he found none and his inspection shifted from my mood to my person, where he found cause for a suspicion of extravagance. "Is that a new dress?" he asked.

"No," I replied. "I retrimmed it with some lace Aunt Lelia sent."

His eyes swept over my figure in that rapacious way I find so unsettling. "You've changed the neck."

He couldn't be dismissed as an unobservant man. "Yes," I said. "The styles have changed."

"I wonder how you know when you have so little society."

"I copied it from a paper my aunt sent with the lace."

"It's very becoming," he said.

There was a time when I was moved by compliments, but that time is long behind us, as we both know. Still he manages to work up some feeling about what he imagines is my ingratitude. "I'm sorry to vex you by remarking on your appearance, Manon," he said. "You are free to leave, if you've no business of your own to discuss with me."

I stood up. What business might that be? I wondered. Perhaps he'd care to have a look at my accounts: on one side my grievances, on the other my resolutions, all in perfect balance. I allowed my eyes to rest upon his face. He brought his hand to his mustache, smoothing down one side of it, a nervous habit of his. It's always the right side, never the left. Looking at him makes my spine stiffen; I could feel the straightness of it, the elongation of my neck as I turned away. There was the rustling sound of my skirt sweeping against the carpet as I left the room, terminating thereby another lively interview with my husband.

Reading Group Guide

Winner of the Orange Prize

“This fresh, unsentimental look at what slave owning does to (and for) one’s interior life must be a first. And the writing—so prised and clean-limbed—is a marvel.” —Toni Morrison

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Valerie Martin’s Property, groundbreaking fiction selected by the international Orange Prize committee as the best novel of the year by a woman writing in English.

1. How does Property differ from such long-time favorite novels of the South as Gone With the Wind?

2. In the early pages of the novel, Manon treasures the memory of her father and of his fairness to their slaves. Yet over the course of the novel, she changes her mind, rejecting him so fiercely that she turns his picture face down and calls him a hypocrite [p. 182]. What psychological progression leads to Manon’s change of heart?

3. Manon remembers her father telling her that “Religion was for the Negroes . . . it was their solace and consolation, as they were ours” [p. 22]. Discuss Manon’s relationship to the religious convictions that were the sources of pro- and anti- slavery movements in both North and South.

4. In what sense is Sarah an alter ego or “double” for Manon?

5. When Manon is in her husband’s control, one might say she is something of a slave herself. Yet once she is free, her sense of injustice and victimization persist. What explains that, and how does it relate to other historical situations involving the oppression of one group by another?

6. Manon speaks of a lie, “the lie at the center of everything, the great lie we all supported, tended and worshipped as if our lives depended upon it” [p. 179]. Manon claims that it is this lie that has turned her heart to stone, and not, as her aunt maintains, the burden of her childlessness. What is the lie?

7. Babies and the act of nursing figure in several scenes in the novel. Recalling how white infants were nursed by slaves, Manon muses, “Perhaps that was how the poison entered us all” [p. 180]. What is the poison?

8. One of the most dramatic sections in the novel is the story of Sarah’s escape. Why does the author relate these events not from Sarah’s point of view but as a story told to Manon third-hand?

9. At the end of the novel, Mr. Roget, a free black man and New Orleans artisan, steps forward and offers to purchase Sarah and Walter from Manon. She refuses, speaking of a bit of white plaster that falls from his suit to the carpet as enraging her and sealing his fate. [p. 170]. Why does she refuse his offer, and what is the significance of the plaster?

10. How does Manon view Walter at the end of Property? What do you imagine will become of him?

11. What is the significance of the spyglass at the opening of the novel, and of the first-person narrative voice the author uses?

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Property 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the book in one afternoon. It makes you think. You wonder how anyone can treat another in this manner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If Martin's intention was to create an unsympathetic narrator, she accomplished her goal. But when a reader dislikes the narrator, it can be difficult to truly engage with a novel. In fact, it was hard to like anyone in this novel--or to really care what happened to them. Yes, it details the hothouse life of southern women in the civil war era, and it shows the bitterness and desperation of the slaves. But I didn't feel it was up to par for Martin.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent !!!! Read it twice. Easy to read. Very Descriptive.
DMHU2 More than 1 year ago
This book took me less than a day to finish (the copy I have is 193 pages long). It was really good, hard to put down at times. I actually wished it was twice as long when I was done because I wanted to learn even more about the characters. I would give it between a 3 and a 4 because, though it was entertaining, I wanted more out of it by the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was engaging until the end and then it fell flat. The book literally just stops mid story. I found myself checking my ebook to make sure there wasn't an error. This is the first book that I have read by this author and it's obvious that she is talented, but the abrupt ending left much to be desired and subtracted from the overall appeal of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book on history of slavery. Easy read.
pcj60 More than 1 year ago
An easy read with no surprises except it wasnt as good as expected.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the most memorable books I've read all year. It is suspenseful and realistic without all the excessive angst in most books containing dark subject matter. I can't wait to buy the rest of her books. This one is a 'must'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was disturbing and evxhilirating. It was unique in it's perspective of a female slave owner. I loved the comparisons of the oppressed woman in U.S. society as well as the plight of the enslaved black woman. The experiences are starkly different but also parrallel to each other. 'Property'is run of the mill, because of it's account of the black holocaust also known as slavery, but Ms. Martin's new slant, is that the story isn't told from the aspect of a slave, a brutal master or overseer, but a woman who was just as brutal in her thoughts and words.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For someone looking for a real book, not just fluff, that flows quick and smooth, this is it. Lovely Bones, Lucky, English Patient, to name a few, are books written well, like this one. I could not put it down, and wanted more in the end.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Exellent narrative, great perspective, then the reader is dropped like a hot potato. I expected more from such a talented writer. Very disappointed.
rainpebble on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Property is the story of a woman who is married to a quite despicable man who is the owner of a sugar plantation and as thus, with the time and place, also is a slave owner. Her husband is obsessed with a house slave and has two babies by her. The wife, Manon, is repulsed by her husband but is still very angry about the situation. The slave girl, Sarah, hates the master as well.It is a short story, taking all of about 2 hours to read, but there is a lot contained in this book. The slavery uprisings and murders of hundreds of whites and blacks. The yellow fever and cholera epidemics also killing hundreds and hundreds of people, both free and slave. The story is interestingly told in the first person of Manon, the wife of the slave and plantation owner. In her daily life it seems that she totally takes for granted these people who are the property of her husband and the fact that they take care of all of the needs of the plantation, including her own personal need and requirements.During the uprising, her husband is killed, (for which she appears grateful), and she is badly injured herself. The slave girl, Sarah, runs for freedom. Manon offers rewards and hires, with the help of her aunt, a broker to find the girl. It takes several months for the girl to be found and interestingly enough when she is brought back to Manon, Manon seems to be envious of the fact that the slave, Sarah, had known those months/weeks of freedom which she, herself, has never known. It is almost as if within her lifetime Manon has felt like "property" herself.I recommend this book and rated it a 4* read. I quite liked it though the subject matter is troubling.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Deceptively simple, this is a striking and hypnotic novel that might easily be read in one sitting. The first person narrator here is a unique addition to contemporary fictions' looks at slavery, and Martin's relaxed style is an effective tool for not only engaging readers, but surprising them with their own sympathies by the end. Unlike some contemporary looks at slavery, the book is neither overwritten or simply a rewrite of the more well-known slave narratives. It is, however, engaging and worth reading. Additionally, Martin's style and the short sections make this a book that might be ideal for young adult reading clubs or programs, and at the very leas a book that both young adults and their parents can approach together, which seems a rare find in literary fiction. In short, this is absolutely recommended----a striking surprise.
BellaFoxx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book. It is primarily about the 'relationship' between slave holders and slaves. I kept comparing this to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' which I feel deals with the morality of slavery. The main character in Property, does not feel there is anything wrong with owning another person. To her, the slaves are not people, they are property, at the same time, she is the 'property' of her husband. Everything that is hers, is his to do with however he wants, she has no say in it. I have mixed opinions about the ending, and I can't really say I liked this book, but it does make you think.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in the 1830s, Property is the story of Manon, the wife of a Louisiana sugar cane plantation owner. Manon despises her boorish husband and is justifiably resentful of his affair with her housemaid Sarah, which has produced two children. She is disturbed by his cruel brutality towards his slaves. And yet, she cannot escape values shaped during her own childhood in a slaveowning family. She holds her own father in high regard for having been a more compassionate owner, but fails to see the injustice of humans as property. Manon's days of idle leisure are interrupted both by her mother's illness and a slave revolt, Sarah's escape, and the subsequent effort to track her down and return her to Manon. These events provide some movement and force to the plot. The novel provides an unusual perspective -- that of a woman slaveowner -- and it definitely held my interest. However, in presenting Manon's story, the author appeared to maintain a rather neutral position on slavery. It seemed I was supposed to side with Manon in wishing for Sarah's return, when I wanted nothing more than for Sarah to find freedom. I believe this was an accurate portrayal of a certain type of individual during that time period, but I was unable to identify with her, which dampened my enthusiasm for this novel.
schwager on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After spending a semester studying slavery, and particularly slave insurrections this little gem popped up on my LibraryThing recommendations. The beauty of this book is the uncommon point of view from which it is written - that of the white mistress of the plantation. While most modern authors would have chosen to present this story from the slave's perspective, Martin bucks the trend. What results is a n excellent representation of a woman who is a product of her environment. A very interesting read.
katiekrug on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I¿ve been trying to write this review for a while now and it refuses to come together. So here is a quote that I think best encapsulates this story of enslavement (both literal and figurative) and the twisted relationship between men and women and slaves and masters in 1820s Louisiana:¿He wishes I might die of cholera, and fears that she may instead. I wish he might be killed while shooting rebellious negroes. She wishes us both dead.¿ (page 63)What Martin does most brilliantly is to depict the internalization of brutality and to create an anti-heroine and narrator so selfish and self-absorbed that she fails to comprehend the hypocrisy in which she lives. An uncomfortable read and a worthy Orange Prize winner by an author I look forward to reading more of.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Valerie Martin deserves 5 stars for this book for best use of a title. She tells the story of various forms of property in 1860's Louisiana: slaves, wives, children, slave owners (as victims of their society) and the usual forms of inanimate property. The story is told through the perspective of Manon Gaudet a wife and slave owner. Manon hates her husband who engages in daily sadistic games and punishments of his slaves. She hates him because he's a bore who has drained all the joy out of her life. Had her husband been witty and fun, I think Manon could have overlooked his other personal failings. She regarded slaves as kind of a human like species with no real sense of morality or responsibility. Manon thought it was perfectly acceptable to use slaves for any convenience at all, but found it very rude to strike one in public or breed with one. She thought it wrong that men were allowed to rule over women and use up their property without the woman's consent, but using human-like beings as slaves did not present a moral difficulty to her mind. It was fascinating to get inside Manon's mind, to feel her hates and hopes, to see life from her perspective then to constantly be confronted with her comfort with the institution of slavery. An equally interesting part of the book was Martin's reporting of slave uprisings. People sometime wonder why an oppressed people doesn't rise up against their oppressors. They do, over and over before finally those oppressors are toppled. In the US it took a Civil War followed by decades of lawful oppression before laws were instituted supporting equality, and equality is still just a dream for many.
janeajones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a brilliantly written book revealing the corrosive effects of human ownership of other humans -- in slavery, in marriage, in families. Much has been written about this Orange Prize winner, so I'm not going to rehash the plot. Martin's skill lies in creating a narrator whom the reader at once despises and feels sympathy for. I couldn't put it down until I had finished it.
kelawrence on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book a lot - as a matter of fact, I thought it was too short!! I would have liked it go farther into the future with the main character. Very interesting period in time and I liked the fact that this story was told from a woman's point of view.
1morechapter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Winner of the 2003 Orange Prize, Property by Valerie Martin is an extremely readable story set in the South and is, obviously, about slavery and what it means to be free.Manon is the wife of a cruel slaveowner and is miserable in her marriage. She idealizes her father, who was kind (relatively speaking) to his slaves, and hates her husband, but really, she is not that kind to her slaves herself. Manon is not a likable character at all, though we do feel a little sympathetic toward her situation. Her attitudes toward slavery were probably typical of the time ¿ in other words, deplorable.It is ironic that Manon really is `property¿ to her husband as well. I believe that is the thrust of the novel. There is a parallel story between her and her slave Sarah. Both desperately want freedom, but Manon cannot understand why Sarah won¿t accept her position as slave. There is a certain scene between Manon and Sarah that I *did not* care for, but it illustrated Manon¿s attitudes perfectly. She was enforcing her `ownership¿ of Sarah just as her husband did.I thought the story was leading up to a certain conclusion in the end, but it didn¿t happen, and the book ends a bit abruptly. Though I wanted more, the book definitely is thought-provoking. It is a quick read ¿ I read it in a single day, and I do recommend it if you¿re interested in the time period or Orange Prize winners
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In antebellum Louisiana, the acerbic main character of Martin¿s short novel, a Creole woman named Manon Gaudet, hates her life. She despises her husband, who has fathered two children by her house slave, Sarah. She despises Sarah too, who also abhors the husband but who seems to Manon to take advantage of her favored position in the household. She can¿t stand the tedium of plantation life. She is whiny, self-absorbed, with few redeeming characteristics, and yet she is fascinating.Manon despairs of her life ever getting better and constantly rues the choices she has made. Then a slave insurrection does change everything ¿ and yet it changes none of the essential facts of the time and culture Manon lives in.Property is about the plight of people who are property: literally, in the case of Sarah, and metaphorically, in the case of Manon, who is owned by her husband. The writing is simple and precise; the story is both horrifying and enthralling. This is a unique glimpse into what is now an alien practice: slave-holding.
GarethPeterson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did not enjoy this book. The characters were vile and I had no sympathy for them. Some of the scenes seemed disconnected from the story line: the breast feeding incident ,for example. The best thing going for this book is that it is an easy read.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every time I have the pleasure of reading a book written by Valerie Martin I am reminded of how good she is and I wonder again why she isn't more well known. Her writing is bracing and clear, her stories compelling. She often manages to do in under 200 pages what most authors can't do in 500 - that is certainly true in this book.Slavery, the peculiar institution, warps everyone it touches. From slave owners to actual slaves involvement in treating other people as property everyone is impacted and not for the better. This book addresses this institution and through it relationships of power and their consequences.The narrator is Manon Gaudet, wife of a sugar planter in Louisiana in 1828. Playing against her are primarily her husband and her slave, Sarah, who is also her husband's mistress. There is nothing ordinary about these people nor about their relationships, although at their time in history they were completely commonplace. I can see how many readers may find Manon unsympathetic, but I couldn't stop empathizing with her and the box that her time and station put her in.Brilliant, disturbing, utterly readable and unforgettable.
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wickedly good character study of a heartless woman who is not only a product of her circumstances, but perfectly suited to survive them. Set before the U.S. Civil War, this story explores the hard realities of life in a slave-holding society, without using a single romantic cliche. There is no nostalgia here for the ante-bellum South; no helpless fainting ladies, no sweeping staircases, no faithful darkies, no hope for a better day tomorrow. The "heroine" is totally self-centered, but without a grain of self-pity; her reaction to any given situation is to figure out how to survive it or work it to her advantage. It is impossible to like her, but I found her utterly fascinating. "Nice" people are rarely so interesting.