Bought on a 3 for 2 deal at Waterstones, this novel saved me from my recent reading crisis. It is my third Toni Morrison, having previously read Song of Solomon and Beloved and enjoyed both. Its also quite short at 165 pages.
Set in the 1600's we are told an account of a plantation and of how some of the people who live there came to be there. Some of the chapters are 1st person, some are not.
Florens is taken there as payment for a debt at 8 years old, as a slave, leaving her mother to a harsher existence on another farm. The place is owned by Jacob, an ambitious but fair master, and his hardy wife Rebekka who has escaped a life of poverty in England. They have a Native American servant called Lina, who is protective and suspicious. There is also a young pregnant slave girl called Sorrow, wayward and quiet, she was rescued from a shipwreck.
Each of these people, including two male farm hands, have a chapter or two to tell pieces of a story that knits them all together. The different voices of the characters or the narrator keep the narrative fresh and interesting.
The writing is very typical of Morrison's style, non-linear, elusive and poetic, it often feels as if you may have missed something, as if it assumes a fore-knowledge of events while starting in the middle. You feel that the story is much bigger than what is actually written on the page. It is why Morrison is hailed as a truly great writer, but it is also why some find her novels difficult to connect with. Thankfully I am in the former category and gain a lot from her books. I found some of the passages beautiful and intriguing, and I really feel that Morrison loves the people that she writes about.
I think that a novel written in this style by a less accomplished writer could alienate and distance its readers, but this one, though not quite as moving as Beloved, still raised a lot of emotion in me, especially towards the end, when we hear Florens's mother speak. I also found it a little easier to read, maybe because of the short chapters.
Although the characters are not quite as quirky and memorable as the other books, I really enjoyed it and recommend it to Morrison fans, naturally, and anyone who likes their narrative to be less straight forward and 'spoon-fed'.
You can see Toni morrison discussing A Mercy here.
There is a reading group guide for A Mercy here.