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2.4 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on February 25, 2009
Having not read a lot of fiction based in the Caribbean I thought this was a great place to start. The characters were rich and Clarke's description of a place I have never seen was impressively vivid. I am surprised by the other reviews- the histiroical pain in this book was palatable, the narrative was whimiscal and was indeed deserving of the prize.
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on September 13, 2005
I agree with all of the other reviewers. This book was painfully slow! Generally, I like character driven books, but I did not care about these characters. I kept hoping for a big ending, but nothing ever really seemed to happen. My book club read this book and it received 3/10, our lowest rated book to date (after 2 years)!
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on March 1, 2015
Excellent historical fiction with a literary depth that some may find slow and meandering (if they are expecting a "good read" - i.e., to be entertained).

Well worth reading if you understand that this is not a typical novel; it is a layered and delicate work of literature written by a great poet.
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on May 11, 2011
Very hard to follow, long and boring. Jumping around topics. Poor character development. Creepy gross sexuality that did not add to the story.
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on September 28, 2015
It looks like a good read. I can't find it anywhere
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on November 22, 2002
this is the first of this author's books i have read, impulsively ordering it after hearing of his award. I am less than 1/3 of the way through and doubt will finish, having scanned through to the end, little changes. honest, well written characters do not make up for the repetitiveness and general boredom of this book.
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on March 22, 2005
Man this book was awful! I took it out of the library b/c it had won the Govenor General's Award, so I figured it had to be good. Boy was I ever wrong!
This book is dull. It is s-l-o-w moving from start to finish and it is written in this slang type speech (which I suppose was common for the age but) which makes it very difficult to read. So put all of these issues in a blender and you have one horrible book/story.
Avoid this book like the plague.
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on May 6, 2011
A torturously slow-moving book, ponderously told, it dredges to the surface every possible stereotype about colonial culture and puts it in the mouth of a pseudo-sententious, unappealing narrator. Clarke is a wonderful poet, but the clipped and nuanced vibrancy of his poetry is absent here; instead, needless detail is heaped upon needless detail. Highly recommended for hopeless insomniacs.
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on February 15, 2004
I read this book for our bookclub and out of 21 women none of us liked it. We all thought the ending was so unbelievable. We couldn't see where the book had wanted to take us. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone.
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