This isn’t really a book review, as I read Blonde Roots a few years ago and had cause to revisit it again recently for some background reading on slavery. I’d quite forgotten what a little gem this book is.
It’s a kind of ‘alternate history’ novel that tells the story of a young girl taken from her home to work the plantations in a foreign land. But in a rather clever twist to history as we know it, Ms Evaristo has spun things around. In her world of the nineteenth century, it is the Africans who are kidnapping Europeans by the thousand and transporting them to work their farms and plantations.
The story is beautifully written and told without frills or compromise. After a while you forget that this isn’t the world as we know it, but still remain struck at the injustice and cruelty of the slave trade and how it demeans both the sufferers who endure it and the slavers who profit from it.
A simple story that is, for the most part, beautifully told. I felt a genuine sadness for the characters, even the ones that were only there for a few pages. The sense of place is excellent and not overdone; there’s plenty left to the imagination, and a surprising amount of drama for what is, essentially, a very long stroll. The author has a light touch, but the occasional overcooked metaphor interrupted the flow of the story (I don’t think anyone’s breath should ‘wallop’ the air), and that’s my only complaint.I think I was half way through before I put the book down for a day — just so Harold’s journey would last a little bit longer.
Mo Hayder’s books should come with a small phial of whiskey sellotaped to the spine; every one I’ve read (the excellent Jack Caffrey series and the brutal Tokyo) is an exercise in dark prose, superb characterisation and roller coaster plot lines.
Hanging Hill manages about one-and-a-half out of the three on that score. The story was good (though perhaps a little plodding in places) but seemed to be missing a lot of the edgy and stark prose of the Caffrey series.
Hayder’s writing is usually a lot smoother too, relying less on exposition and more on punchy dialogue and well-crafted action scenes. I wondered if the story is being aimed toward a possible TV drama, which would explain why the story lacked much of the edginess of her earlier work. If that’s the case then it would make one hell of a series; the characterisation is still top notch.
All in all, I was a bit disappointed with Hanging Hill, but then I do hold Mo Hayder to a much higher standard than other shock thriller writers I happen to read.