Socialist Worker

Property: Slaves prove they're no one's property

by Andrew Baisley
Issue No. 1865

Valerie Martin’s novel Property tells the story of a slave revolt on a sugar plantation in the US Deep South. Manon, the planter's wife, narrates it. Manon misses the excitement and culture of New Orleans, where she was brought up. More than anything she wants to be free of her boorish husband. She is appalled by his violence and sadistic cruelty and contrasts him with her father, who had a paternalistic attitude to his slaves. In the background there are rumours of slave rebellion.

One of the many achievements of Valerie Martin's novel is to create such a strong character in Manon's slave, Sarah. The awfulness of Sarah's story puts Manon's troubles into perspective.

The tension between Manon and Sarah builds as the revolt approaches. Valerie Martin creates a vivid picture of plantation life that is unpleasant and deeply unglamorous. It really couldn't be much further from the world of Gone with the Wind.

She manages to use the story of a small revolt on one plantation to create a picture of the whole of slave society, and investigate the motivations of oppressed and oppressor. Property is brilliantly written. It is short and pacy and deservedly won this year's Orange Prize for Women's Fiction.

Valerie Martin
Abacus, £9.99

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Sat 23 Aug 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1865
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