Top critical review
13 of 13 people found this helpful
I wanted to love this book but I didn't
on January 25, 2003
I wanted so much to love this year's Giller Winner. Austin Clarke was the underdog against such big hitters as Wayne Johnston and Carol Shields but I found The Polished Hoe to be a long rambling tale with an unsatisfying climax.
Mary Gertrude Mathilda Bellfeels, a plantation field worker who luckily or unluckily caught the favor of the plantation manager Mr. Bellfeels becomes his mistress and bears him his only son. As a reward she lives and raises her son (he grows up to become the village doctor) in the Great House and no longer has to work other than being little more than a [mistress] to a man you come to truly hate.
The novel covers one long night of Mary giving her statement to a Sargent who has loved her from afar since they were both only 10 years old. In the build up to her crime, what she did and why she did it, we get the story of her almost 60 years on the plantation through anecdotes of the horrors of black life in the village of Bimshire in the West Indies where blacks are still treated like slaves even if they work for a wage.
The problem for me was that this book rambled over the same territory continually and although some of the history was compelling this novel lacked a continuity or a narrative that kept you wanting to read on. The carrot is that you know she's probably killed someone with that hoe she used to use in the north field but you don't find out who and why until the last 10 pages of the book and by then I just wanted to be done.
This is a good book for a sense of place, time and culture but don't look for a great love story or a novel of suspense in The Polished Hoe.