Valerie Martin’s Property delivers an eerily mesmerizing inquiry into slavery’s venomous effects on the owner and the owned. The year is 1828, the setting a Louisiana sugar plantation where Manon Gaudet, pretty, bitterly intelligent, and monstrously self-absorbed, seethes under the dominion of her boorish husband. In particular his relationship with her slave Sarah, who is both his victim and his mistress.
Exploring the permutations of Manon’s own obsession with Sarah against the backdrop of an impending slave rebellion, Property unfolds with the speed and menace of heat lightning, casting a startling light from the past upon the assumptions we still make about the powerful and powerful.
The vivid imagination that allowed Martin to create Jekyll and Hyde's eponymous servant in Mary Reilly is again evident in this powerful story of a petulant and bitter plantation mistress whose absorption in her own misery leaves her blind to that of a slave she despises. Manon Gaudet is married to her husband before she could know whether the socially advantageous match would be a happy one, before discovering he is a cruel slave master with a propensity for debt and certainly before realizing that he will force Sarah, the light-skinned housekeeper who was a wedding gift from her aunt, to bear two of his illegitimate children. She learns all of these things soon after leaving her native New Orleans and arriving on her new husband's Louisiana sugar plantation, and is henceforth consumed by loathing for both her domestic predicament and the society in which it is possible. Manon's fierce discontent makes her an excellent narrator, as she has long abandoned any romantic notions about slavery and the plantation life. Her husband's arbitrary cruelty fills her with disgust for him, the "negroes" he abuses and herself. Her misery is grotesquely self-centered; she never evinces even a glimmer of sympathy for Sarah. Martin conveys this sickening blend of moral delusion and self-serving repugnance in feverish prose that perfectly reflects Manon's desperation. The racial unrest of the 1820s reaches this unhappy trio in the form of a small gang of escaped slaves who, in an unforgettably hellish scene, wound Manon, murder her husband and allow Sarah to escape. Manon's subsequent determination to have Sarah caught and returned is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this story, an emphatic reminder that the inhumanity of slave ownership knew no bounds. Yet in depicting Manon's plight as wife and widow, Martin also demonstrates compassion for white women in the patriarchal society of the antebellum South. In addressing these issues, Martin adds resonance to a compelling story.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Martin has written a book with a fascinating view of the reality of slavery in the 1800’s in America. While this book is fiction, it gave a very interesting perspective of how life very likely was during the time. It certainly provides the reader pause to think about slavery and the effects it had on our American culture and life.
A book that reflects on politics is something that has every bit of what is going on in the present world, but at a different expense of course. We are all property of someone or something. Bringing this to a wider concept, it is not just about being African American, or being women; it is about each and every person being the property of someone or something.
Property. Don’t waste your time
This book is from the perspective/viewpoints of the Masters wife. She’s inconsiderate, selfish, bitter and boring as hell! I sure would like to get the perspective of sarah which was the House slave who had to endure the sexual abuse from the master. The author clearly got bored w/ writing this book and just decided to stop w/o ending it.