Customer Reviews


25 Reviews
5 star:
 (15)
4 star:
 (9)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quality not strained
Although it can stand alone, this excellent historical novel is a sequel to the Booker Prize Winner, "Sacred Hunger" which it is advisable to read first.

Set mainly in the London of 1767 and a Durham coastal mining village, there are four main plot strands which gradually interweave. The intense and somewhat humourless banker Erasmus Kemp is bent on bringing to...
Published on 20 Dec 2011 by Antenna

versus
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
I was really looking forward to this book having thouroughly enjoyed Sacred Hunger, I found it a mere shadow of SH and seemed contrived and shallow to me and I got the distinct feeling that it was written to take advantage of Sacred Hunger's deserved plaudits.
Published on 15 Nov 2011 by Greengoose


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quality not strained, 20 Dec 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Paperback)
Although it can stand alone, this excellent historical novel is a sequel to the Booker Prize Winner, "Sacred Hunger" which it is advisable to read first.

Set mainly in the London of 1767 and a Durham coastal mining village, there are four main plot strands which gradually interweave. The intense and somewhat humourless banker Erasmus Kemp is bent on bringing to trial in London the mutineers who made off with his father's ship, thus reducing him to financial ruin and suicide. Frederick Ashton, a wealthy man who finds the cause of anti-slavery gives meaning to his life, is equally determined to get the sailors acquitted on the grounds that they were driven to violence by revulsion over the practice of throwing sick slaves overboard to maximise insurance claims. Sullivan, an Irish fiddler press-ganged onto the ill-fated ship has managed to escape from gaol before the trial, and resolves to travel north to Durham to fulfil a pledge to explain to the family of a dead friend how he came to die after the mutiny. This family are the Bordens, headed by James who can barely repress his frustration over being forced to work underground, scarcely seeing the sunlight, and who dreams of buying a sheltered plot in the dene, a beautiful wooded ravine near the village. These main characters together with Frederick's spirited sister Jane, and James's son Michael are all developed very fully: Unsworth's striking observations on human nature are what make the book exceptional.

This well-paced and skilfully plotted novel with close attention to period detail provides a vivid insight into life during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, when coalmines tended to have long galleries rather than deep shafts. Men swung down the shaft on ropes, with children on the their knees. Boys as young as seven worked for hours opening trapdoors to ventilate the mines, progressing to pulling heavy wooden containers loaded with coal. Partly through some lively discussions and absorbing court scenes, the importance of another form of exploitation, black slavery linked to the sugar trade, in the growth of prosperity of England at the time is also made very clear. Then there is the acceptance of the class structure in which rich and poor were breeds apart, although there were signs of change as the merchant class began to narrow the gap with the aristocrats, who took their wealth too much for granted, and a few workers could advance through ability and good fortune. It is hard to avoid uncomfortable parallels between the casual acceptance of injustice then and now, when we assume that we are more democratic and enlightened.

The story is also realistic in being a blend of good and harsh fortune. This is demonstrated most clearly in the alternating luck of Sullivan, who comes by money one minute (perhaps dishonestly) only to be robbed the next, or is locked up in the workhouse but then transported free to the next county which is his final destination. Overall, often through chance or fate, some characters come to a sad end while others flourish. Unsworth does not deal in sentimental happy endings for all those for whom he has aroused your sympathy, but neither is he ever bleak or depressing, just moving and thought-provoking.

As a writer in his eighties, Unsworth's wisdom shines through - the results of a lifetime of reflection. The no doubt deliberately slightly oldfashioned, flowing and literary style, fits well with the period covered, although the dialect of the Durham miners also rings true, perhaps because Unsworth was born there.

To leave the last word to the illiterate Sullivan,

"It is the power of imaginin' that makes a man stand out, an' it is rarer than you might think, it is similar to the power of music."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lasting impressions, 20 Sep 2012
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Paperback)
At first sight, The Quality Of Mercy by Barry Unsworth might appear to be a sequel. Sacred Hunger, the novel that won the author the Booker Prize, is a vast and highly moving tale about the slave trade. The Quality Of Mercy continues some of the loose ends that Sacred Hunger left, but it goes far beyond being a mere adjunct to its larger predecessor. The Quality Of Mercy makes its own points, just as significant as those of Sacred Hunger, but its form is more succinct and, in some ways, its message is more telling.

As ever with Barry Unsworth, the novel goes far beyond mere story, describes much more than the countable events that befall its characters. In Sacred Hunger, the focus was a mercantilist venture in the inhumane human trade of the eighteenth century. It was the history, its veracity, its credibility, its rawness and ultimately unacceptable reality that shone through and rendered the book a completely satisfying experience both as a narrative and as an intellectual experience.

In The Quality Of Mercy, Barry Unsworth continues the tale of the Liverpool Merchant, the ship that made Sacred Hunger's voyage in the triangular trade. But it is more than a decade since the endeavour came to its unfortunate end and Erasmus Kemp, son of the venture capitalist whose dreams of profit proved no more substantial than a pending insurance claim, is pursuing an action against a gang of mutineers from the ship who still languish in a London jail. He is also pursuing the insurance claim, the outcome of which depends in part on how the crewmen's mutiny is seen.

The Ashtons are brother and sister and, for their own reasons, support the abolition of slavery. One of the hand-clapping surprises of reading Barry Unsworth is his ability to interpret the history associated with his plots. There is no mere plod through events as they unfold. Neither is there cheap sensationalism derived from overstatement. What Barry Unsworth achieves is a rounded picture of issues that incorporates the complications, contexts and nuances of a debate that are often lost in summary accounts. And he always manages to achieve this with elegance, wit and considerable beauty. Abolitionists, you see, were not all liberals campaigning for human rights and concepts of freedom. Politics have always been more complex than that. Read the book to understand the nuances.

Well, the Ashtons oppose Kemp, at least the brother does. The sister, Jane, eventually makes liaisons of her own with Erasmus Kemp. His anticipation of willing enslavement by her prompts the delamation of some rather uncharacteristic promises of the kind that men are prone to make when presented with opportunity.

There is the case of Evans, who in theory has been manumitted and thus rendered a free man, but whose former owners still regard as their property to sell. There is Sullivan, an Irish fiddler from the Liverpool Merchant, who breaks out of prison to fulfil a promise to a deceased crew member that he would contact his family to tell of his fate. That family lives in Durham and work in the mines, work in a domestic slavery from the age of seven, the dark underground galleys of the mine reminding us directly of the below deck cargo hold of the ocean-going slaver. Then there is the mine's owner, a landowner and a Lord, no less, who lives in a state of permanent debt, more interested in trinkets than lives. And then there is the dawn of capitalism in the form of the nouveau-riche Kemp's intended purchase and reform of the Lord's mines, a proposal characterised by notions of technological innovation, increased efficiency and projected profit. A little piece of previously unwanted land might hold all kinds of keys.

The Quality Of Mercy is thus much more than an historical novel. It is also much more than a tale of slavery and emerging capitalism. It is more than mutiny aboard ship and revenge via the Law. It is also much more than an essay o social class relations at the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. It is no less than a Barry Unsworth novel and therefore simultaneously emotional and intellectual, a rounded and completely satisfying experience for the reader. But it is a complex book about complex issues. Expect to be challenged.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mercifully good, 6 Sep 2011
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Hardcover)
"The Quality of Mercy" picks up the story of the author's Booker Prize-winning "Sacred Hunger" although if you haven't read the first book, you won't be greatly disadvantaged as the relevant story lines are explained. What you might miss out on is some of the feeling for a few of the main characters, most notably the Irish fiddler, Sullivan who, when this book picks up in spring 1767, has just escaped from prison where the remaining shipmates of the slave ship, the "Liverpool Merchant" await their trial of piracy. Slavery and abolition thereof remains a central theme of this sequel, but the book draws some poignant similarities with those in bondage due to poverty, and particularly those working in the coal mines of County Durham. The word "mercy" derives from the Latin for price paid or wages.

Unsworth offers four character threads by which he weaves his story together. Firstly there is the aforementioned Sullivan, who decides to venture north to Durham on foot to fulfill his pledge to his dead friend Billy Blair that he will visit Blair's family to relate the story of his passing. This then is the second thread. Billy's sister, Nan, is married with three sons and her husband and two oldest boys already work in the coal mine and her youngest, aged just seven, is about to start down the pit himself. The third character story is the mercenary Erasmus Kemp, whose ownership of the "Liverpool Merchant" after the death of his father, means that he is the one seeking legal recourse on the returned sailors. He is also now a banker and when an opportunity to loan a sum to the owner of a coal mine in, you've guessed it, Durham arises, he heads to the same location as the unfortunate Sullivan.

These three story threads fit nicely together. The fraying at the edges though comes in the form of a passionate anti-slavery campaigner, Frederick Ashton, and his sister, Jane, who develops an unlikely mutual attraction with the ideologically opposed Erasmus Kemp. Ashton's involvement in the story initially starts with a second case pertaining to the lost ship, but once this is resolved his focus switches to an entirely different slave-related case which, while affording the opportunity to make valid points about slavery and to expose the vested interests that the rich had in opposing abolition, seemed to me like one narrative thread too many. In the end, the Sullivan story rather falls by the wayside and he is such an engaging character that this is something of a loss to the book as a whole.

There's no denying the depth of historic research that has gone into this book and the descriptions of the life in the Durham coal mines is particularly poignant. Equally impressive is the quality of the writing. Unsworth frequently uses long, and sometimes complex, sentences which force the reader to slow down and do much to draw the reader into the slower pace of the past.

Apart from Jane and Sullivan, few characters offer much in the way of `mercy' and rather a lot in the way of self-interest. Then again, Jane, as an unmarried, privileged woman of the 1700s had greater scope for idealistic values, while poor old Sullivan never has much to lose in the first place.

It is seldom that movie sequels live up to the first story and so too, often with novels. It's a book that still has much to commend it, but if were to ask me to recommend only one Barry Unsworth book, then I'd still go with "Sacred Hunger".
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning achievement, 28 Nov 2012
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Paperback)
It's hard to know where to start in reviewing this novel, so many and varied are its qualities! I've read quite a few historical novels, and I've read most by Barry Unsworth (Losing Nelson, MORALITY PLAY, The Ruby in Her Navel Unsworth, Barry ( Author ) Nov-17-2007 Paperback, The Songs of the Kings, and Sacred Hunger, and although some of those are better than others I was impressed by all of them, and although I therefore started reading 'The Quality of Mercy' with high expectations I found myself stunned and bowled over.

It's quite uncanny how Unsworth, no matter what place or time he is writing about, from the very start can conjure up a fictional yet entirely credible world, and introduce one to characters so lifelike you'd swear he must have known them in the flesh. In this particular case the year is 1767, and we are quickly introduced to a number of characters from entirely different walks of life and social classes, but all of them somehow related: the business man Erasmus Kemp, intent on seeing brought to justice the surviving crew members (mutineers in his eyes) of his father's slaver, Frederick and Jane Ashton, a brother and sister involved in the abolitionist movement, and the Irish fiddler Sullivan, once a crew member aboard Kemp's slaver and now on his way to the colliery village of Thorpe to fulfill a vow he made to a dying shipmate...

Before you know it (in my case: after reading the very first paragraph) you'll become oblivious of all sense of time and place and, in utter disregard of all other obligations, have just one thing in mind: to read on, to let yourself be immersed completely in this gripping and moving story, and to find out what'll happen next. Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the principal characters, giving you an insight into their motivations, aspirations, dreams and weaknesses, so that by the end of the novel you may not (probably will not) sympathize with all of them but definitely have the feeling you understand all of them, as perhaps you've rarely before 'understood' anyone else (be that fictional or real people). There's ever so much to learn and enjoy here that I would urge each and everyone to treat themselves to this extraordinary experience. To me personally, this is without a shadow of a doubt one of the very best books I've read in a very long time.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite brilliant. Read it., 13 Nov 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Paperback)
I loved Sacred Hunger, the other book of Unsworth's in which some of these characters appear. I remember being completely blown away by it when it was first published. I also loved this. You certainly don't need to have read Sacred Hunger to enjoy this but if you haven't, I'd be amazed if you don't buy it afterwards.

One of the reviewers quoted on the jacket of this book says it's a "proper old-fashioned omniscient narrator" and so it is, with a good plot and believable characters. What a joy to read a book that doesn't jump back and forth in time; that doesn't give you the same events from different people's perspectives - it just tells you a story and it does it brilliantly. My particular favourites here were the Durham Miners and their families and the way in which Unsworth describes the living hell that was their working lives is moving to the point of tears at times (though he also tells us a lot about community, and the values that hold a community together). But I also enjoyed Jane Ashton's thoughts and dilemmas. And how I loathed Erasmus Kemp. Truly, a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Underpinning all of this is a very clever debate about the nature of slavery: what was and wasn't considered slavery at the time; what choice did working people have in their lives; what choices might be made by those of means to improve the lives of others; and what difference might those choices make? And if all that sounds like a bad essay question, it's a tribute to Unsworth's writing that it, in fact, seeps in gradually, around the edges, as you read what is just a cracking historical novel.

I can't recommend it too highly. Think it's probably my novel of 2012.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High Quality, 13 Jun 2012
By 
J. Newth "regular reader" (Poole, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Hardcover)
This review is prompted by Barry Unsworth's death at the age of 81.
I have enjoyed all his books from 'Sacred Hunger' onwards, having found some of his earlier output, particularly 'The Hide' rather unpleaseant. I had not appreciated how highly he was regarded by a wide readership, it being rather difficult to find his books displayed on the shelves of Waterstones for instance.
Of all his books my personal favourite had been 'Morality Play', but 'The Quality of Mercy' I have now found most rewarding of all. It is astonishing that it has been penned by an 80 year old. It is wide-ranging, concise, and its complexity is carefully controlled. All its numerous characters spring to life on the page.
In many respects it is a final homecoming for Barry Unsworth, because the action of the novel, set in literally takes one from London in the 1760s to the Minefields of Durham, where the author grew up. And it is there that the problem of children being forced to work underground in great danger, so having their childhood abruptly curtailed, is depicted and condemned - every bit as serious a type of slavery as that portrayed both here and in Sacred Hunger.
A wonderful way to say 'Good-bye'!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barry Unsworth is a class act!, 29 May 2012
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Hardcover)
The Quality of Mercy is a follow-up to the 1992 novel Sacred Hunger. The story begins in 1767 and has four main threads. The ship's crew has been brought back from Florida in chains are the men are in prison awaiting their trial for piracy. One of the group, the wonderful Sullivan, escapes from prison and makes his way north to find the family of his dead friend. Erasmus Kemp, a banker and son of the ship-owner, is seeking revenge. His business interests take him north to the Durham coalfields. The Bordens are Durham miners. Their working lives are circumscribed by the pit - working for long hours and for much of the year seeing no daylight. The father has a dream of owning some land and growing enough to feed his family. This is the land that Kemp quickly realises would be an ideal route through which to transport coal to the coast. There is also Frederick Ashton, a lawyer espousing the anti-slavery cause whose sister Jane is attracted to Kemp.

Such is the skill of Unsworth that all these characters are fully fleshed out and their lives and actions abut and overlap. The historical detail is finely researched but without becoming unwieldy or pedantic.

Life in 18th century England was harsh for many people and this book doesn't pull any punches - but the story is told vividly and unsentimentally. The "mercy" comes from some surprising sources and it is ultimately an uplifting and redemptive ending.

Some authors (such as Ian McEwan) write brilliant beginnings to their work. But Barry Unsworth writes brilliant endings. I have just re-read the last pages of Sacred Hunger and they are just as I remember them - sad and haunting. The ending to The Quality of Mercy is also unforgettable.

A class act.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth, 16 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Paperback)
Not as good as Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth which you need to have read to to get the most out of The Quality of Mercy
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars books, 15 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Quality of Mercy (Paperback)
bought it for me sister so it is her calling the shots on this book. Have enjoyed the book like all his books well written and plausible.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars Follow up to "Sacred Hunger", 6 Feb 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I loved Sacred Hunger and I was delighted to find that Barry Unsworth had written a follow up, following the life of Sullivan, the fiddle player. Though not quite as gripping as Sacred Hunger, this is a thought provoking-book with a lot of truisms about the nature of capitalism in the 18th century that still rings true today - perhaps even moreso than ever.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Quality of Mercy
The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth (Hardcover - 1 Sep 2011)
16.64
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews