- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: John Murray (20 Jan. 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 071952184X
- ISBN-13: 978-0719521843
- Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.3 x 24.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,528,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Sugar Island Hardcover – 20 Jan 2011
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'An absorbing novel inspired by the life of the famous English actress and writer Fanny Kemble, with a good helping of imagination thrown in. It's gripping, entertaining and entirely on the side of the angels' (The Times)
'Completely absorbing . . . A surprise delight that will please romantics with a conscience hugely' (City AM)
'This thought-provoking book is based on a true story . . . well-written and moving, though at times it is uncomfortable reading. This is partly due to the descriptions that make us feel as if we are actually witnessing the events and experiencing the places. The author . . . is to be congratulated on her excellent research and her ability to translate it into such a gripping and informative novel' (Yorkshire Gazette)
'Beautifully written, the contrasts between the luxurious life of the rich and the horrific, cruel lives of their slaves are vividly recorded and stay in the memory for a long time' (Press Association)
'A well-researched and sensitive story evoking a "twisted version of paradise". O'Connell writes with passion' (Oxford Times)
'A diverting read' (Irish Examiner)
'One of the ten books to look forward to in 2011' (Irish Post)
A riveting story of compassion and justice set in the tumultous years of the American Civil WarSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
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Touchng on terrible treatment of slaves, but not too deeply.
It's not meant to be a documentory or a heavy drama but a lighter read.
I still found it iteresting and would recommend it.
I felt this book was a great idea that didn't quite come off. There were some great bits - descriptions of life on the plantation, Emily's friendship with young slave Frank, who she teaches to read, the contrast between Ely's passionate campaigning for abolition and Charles's horrific refusal to see his workers as fully human. There were some fine descriptions both of the theatre world and of the landscape of Georgia, and O'Connell gave a good sense of the horror of approaching war. But I felt the book suffered due to O'Connell's uncertainty whether to stick to Fanny Kemble's story or go off on her own narrative, and due to some rather clumsy writing in the romantic passages. I was uncertain why Emily, an independent woman, married Charles - poverty may have had something to do with it, but with Ely and Sarah to support her, did she really need to accept the offer of a man she wasn't sure about? Charles himself was not a well-realized character - he appeared to have a personality transformation on the road south to Georgia, spent most of the book behaving like an evil control freak, and then suddenly did a total volte-face, claiming that everything he'd done was just because he adored his wife so much (which seemed sentimental and unlikely, particularly bearing in mind his philandering and taunting). Ely seemed to be able to skip up and down from the North to the South with admirable ease in a pre-aeroplane or even pre-fast train era, and it seemed a bit too convenient that Emily always had 'another man' waiting in the wings for if the Charles situation collapsed. Avoiding the complications of Fanny Kemble's divorce meant that Emily's narrative developed just that bit too neatly, and some of the late scenes seemed to 'sort out' issues too tidily. At least by creating the Scottish couple on the neighbouring plantation O'Connell didn't fall into the trap of making all plantation owners pantomime villains. But I did feel some issues were simplified, and the husband and wife scenes teetered towards melodrama, however moving the scenes with Emily and the slaves were.
A promising if not entirely satisfying book though, and I definitely look forward to reading more of O'Connell's books.
Emily Harris arrives in America in 1858 with her father. An actress of note from England, she has come to America on a tour. Early the next year she is just finishing the Christmas Season in New York when she meets Charles Brook. An eloquent, considerate man, they form a friendship. When her father dies leaving Emily alone in America the friendship becomes romance, and the couple marry. They begin their honeymoon in Italy, intending to visit Emily's family in England as a part of their travels, however, a message to Charles means that the trip is cancelled and they rush back to the Southern States where Charles' Plantation is in financial trouble. The true nature of Charles Brook is revealed. He owns 700 slaves. Men, women and children, all living in poverty and suffering systematic abuse from their owner. Her shock turns to horror as she learns how they live, and her own - and her new daughter's - liberty and wellbeing is threatened when she at first befriends, and then sides with some of the slaves. As war threatens Charles' way of life, her actions have harsh, far reaching consequences.
Emily is a naïve and innocent young lady who is totally unprepared for the reality of her new life, but she has a strong sense of justice and a fire in her that Charles cannot extinguish. Charles is a mean spirited, domineering, stubborn man who is used to his way being the only way. This is a story of two plots. The love followed by disillusionment and disgust that Emily feels for Charles, and her fight for the rights of the slaves; the slaves who are raped, beaten, starved and humiliated routinely. The shock and revulsion when she realises that some of the slaves' children are of paler skin and look remarkably like the Plantation owner. The imagery is stark and beautifully executed, the plotline is very believable. Inn so many stories it is hard to imagine a face for a character, but in Sugar Island, I could see the sneer, the greasy hair, the swagger of Charles. I could smell the slaves' village, and hear the sound of the slaves in the fields. The description of the slaves' hospital is enough to bring one to tears - and the sounds and smell are enough to induce queasiness.
This is not a history book, and I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the timeline. However, it is so believable. From the (very non Politically Correct) language to the descriptions of the life of the slaves, I was there.
Don't enter this book expecting action on every page, nor should you expect a beautiful romance. It's a thought provoking and sometimes harrowing tale comparing two very different worlds; that of Emily and Charles - rich and well appointed, and the horror of a life of slavery. A tale of betrayal and inequality.
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