Intellectual, but no emotional connection

2012-09-05 00:00



Toni Morrison

Chatto & Windus


WHEN you have won a Nobel Prize for Literature, I expect your publishers have to go along with what you want — in this case, calling Home a novel.

It is an elegantly produced book, hard cover, good paper, plenty of white space. But at under 150 pages, it is really a novella, albeit one that deals with big issues. Not that there’s anything wrong with novellas — but descriptions do raise certain expectations with readers.

The story concerns Frank Money, a black veteran returned from the Korean War where he has seen the two buddies who enlisted with him killed.

Traumatised by their deaths, and by what he has done, we first meet him handcuffed to a bed in some kind of institution. But he knows he has to get back to Georgia, to the town he grew up in and has always hated. He has received a message to say he must rescue his sister Cee, who is dying.

America is still segregated, and both Frank and Cee are subject to abuse — for him it is casual violence on his perilous journey to the South, for her it is medical experimentation by a white doctor. But the thrust of Morrison’s tale is that Frank has other demons to fight — ghosts to exorcise and his self-respect to regain. And slowly, as he and others help Cee to an acceptance of what has been done to her, Frank also comes to accept who he is and what he has done.

It is a subtle and sometimes moving book, though Morrison’s style is so minimalist that it moves the reader perhaps less than the story deserves.

The issues are there and so are the characters, but at moments, I began to feel that Morrison didn’t want emotional engagement at all, just intellectual understanding. All very well, but the story does lose something in this kind of telling.

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