Austin Clarke's Giller Prize winning novel, The Polished Hoe, has been sitting on my bookshelf for at least fifteen years. The cover has always appealed to me and it sounded like a book I would love. I was very happy when an opportunity to read this in July as a buddy read with one of my Bookstagram friends came up. Finally, I would get to this backlisted book.
I'm not gonna lie... it was a struggle. The book is divided into three parts. There are no chapters or natural breaks and that made it difficult to take much needed breaks. Stephen King wrote Dolores Claiborne with no chapters, but for some reason that didn't bother me. Like King wrote Dolores giving testimony, Austin Clarke writes Mary Mathilda giving testimony to a constable and then the sergeant over a one night period.
The language took a little while to get used to, but it wasn't a problem. It made the characters more authentic. The setting is Barbados, 1940's and Mary Mathilda is a well respected woman on the island. She was born of a slave woman and worked the fields like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She is also a sex slave in the big house. She has lived this life for years and has been granted favourtism for her and her son because of it.
As Mary Mathilda is telling her story to the police, she is supposed to be giving a statement of a crime she has committed. However, she goes on some major tangents that I think take away from reading the story and made it a bit boring. When she is supposedly giving her statement to the sergeant we find out that they have the hots for each other. They play a seductive cat and mouse that also gets tiring.
Learning about the history of Barbados and some of the issues it covers like slavery and class distinctions was very interesting, but the story itself was lacking. By the end, which is not surprising, I just thought we went through all of that for this? So it was a little disappointing.
I am glad I read this book and I was grateful to have someone to talk about it with. I just wish that I had enjoyed it more.
Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🌱