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Old 25th Apr 2007, 7:16   #21
Lizzy Siddal
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

This is good.

Perhaps a kindly administrator would care to rename this thread to something like "31 Sacred Hunger - The Preamble" so that when we start discussing we can have a fresh and uncluttered literary discussion on a new thread. (This novel deserves nothing less. )
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Old 29th Apr 2007, 11:33   #22
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

I just had a look on Amazon. It looks interesting but yikes -- 600+ pages. I think I'm having a commitment-phobic reaction. I'm tempted though and I'll think about it
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Old 5th May 2007, 16:23   #23
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Contrary to my previous post, I'll be in, too! Just found a hardcover edition at my local charity shop and will read the first 100-ish pages by next week, as you suggested, Lizzie.
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Old 5th May 2007, 20:09   #24
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

I'm about to start rereading for the following 5 reasons:

1) 2007 commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Abolition Bill.
2) Barry Unsworth received my vote for the greatest living British writer.
3) Sacred Hunger won the 1992 Booker Prize.
4) I list this novel as all time favourite number 2. (Number 1 is War and Peace.)
5) I've been evangelical about this novel since first reading it 3 years ago so this is my chance to convert the Palimp!

Hype? Time will tell ......
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Old 7th May 2007, 10:48   #25
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Default Sacred Hunger - The Discussion starts with Spoilers

Fellow readers - I hope you won't mind but I intend to use this reread as an opportunity to precis the novel. This will mean a slow meandering pace (for my reading at least). I'm also assuming that you will be interested in the output from this exercise, which I will post to this thread as we proceed. And so, without further ado:

Note 1: This thread contains spoilers from here on in.

Note 2: The novel is a realistic portrayal of the mid-C18th slave trade with vocabulary which does not conform to modern-day conventions. Please do not be offended by the fact that in order to preserve the flavour of the novel, I intend to use that same vocabulary in this thread.


Prologue

A former slave of mixed descent rambles about some kind of utopia in which black and white exist in harmony. As the man is dying, his words are ignored.

Part One Book One

It is 1752 and the slave trade is in full swing. Vast profits are to made. One merchant, appearances to the contrary, is in financial difficulty and so, in the hope of turning things around, seeks to make money in human cargo. He begins by commissioning his own slaver ship, Liverpool Merchant, and the building of the vessel serves as the prime focus of the first section.

This is a measured introduction to the novel. Unworth's meticulous research is much in evidence as we receive a crash course in C18th ship building techniques. We are also introduced to the main players: Kemp, the struggling merchant; his brooding son, Erasmus; his bankrupt nephew, Matthew Paris; and the faintly disturbing captain of the ship, Thurso. At this stage no-one is very likeable. Erasmus and Thurso have a threatening edge to their nature. Kemp and Parish are more ambiguous. Both think and act as philanthropists yet both are willing to involve themselves in the morally dubious Triangular Trade. Does force of circumstance serve as sufficient justification?

Remarkably Unsworth's narrative voice is absent. He neither condemns nor condones. He records, allowing events to speak and readers to judge for themselves. However, while this may result in a first section that seems slow to modern readers, there is foreshadowing aplenty as here when describing the design of the slaver:

Quote:
All the same, these Liverpool ships had some special features: they were built high in the stern so that the swivel guns mounted on their quarterdecks could be the more easily, the more commodiously as might have been said then - a word curiously typical of the age - trained down on their waists to quell slave revolt; they had a good width of beam and a good depth of hold and they were thickened at the rails to make death leaps more difficult.


Part One Book Two

The Liverpool Merchant has been built and must now be provisioned and crewed. She needs 25 men yet only 22 have signed up. What follows is a press-ganging forray.The kidnapping of 4 men from the dockside allows Unsworth to capture the sights, smells and sounds of the underbelly of Georgian Britain. And, of course, the ship acquires its first few "slaves" (even if these will be paid, provided they survive the trip!). The cruelty has begun.

The set is set for further conflict. In Book One we were told of the emnity at first sight between Paris and Thurso. Here, the latter, with an agenda of his own, demonstrates his brutality with psychological precision as he sets down one of his crew on the main deck to fashion a cat o' nine tails.

Quote:
This was a longstanding practice of Thurso's, it being the captain's fixed belief that it did the men good to see, as they went about their tasks, the plaiting of the stem, the drawing-out one by one of the nine logline branches of the whip, the ritual tying of the four knots in each. It convinced them from the start of the seriousness of his intentions.


As the ship leaves Liverpool and reaches the waters of the Irish Sea, the reader must ask how Matthew Paris, the ship doctor, thus employed to ensure things proceed as humanely as possible, will react.
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Old 7th May 2007, 17:23   #26
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Lizzy,

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I see you are reffering to Part One Book One, Part One Book Two, etc...

My copy starts with Book One (1752-1753), then Part One (nine chapters), then Part Two, and so on. Book one has seven parts and 36 chapters. I just want to make sure I am reading along with you in order to better follow your posts and the discussion.

I am off to read the first two chapters in my copy and will come back here after I fnish them.

Thanks.
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Old 7th May 2007, 18:15   #27
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Scratch my previous post. I just went back and saw that we had agreed to read Parts One and Two of Book One by tomorrow.

I'll report back when I'm finished.
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Old 7th May 2007, 22:10   #28
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Thanks for the summary, Lizzy . I've just finished the assigned fragment and am eager to continue. In fact, more eager to read on than discuss what I've read so far... But I like the idea of reading in instalments, and I think it's interesting to observe like our opinion on the book changes - or not - in the process. At least I plan to record my impressions without spending too much time on it and editing. I also agree that we don't need to be careful about spoilers here.

Although the book is an easy read from the start (I don't really understand my difficulties with getting into it last time, in January), it's only in the last twenty pages (of the first 100) that I started to feel involved - ie, reading the stories of men forced or cheated into becoming Liverpool Merchant crew. Up till then I felt rather distanced from the story.

I've already managed to forget that the book has a prologue. I don't mind prologues, but I am not a big fan either (maybe I should mention here that when I was young I quite hated them).

Narrative voice - I'd say it's an omniscient 3rd person narration. The future events are hinted at, explanations about the characters' background supplied a bit authoratitavely - I felt that the information about the reasons of Matthew Paris's inprisonment was withheld a bit too long - to make us wonder what kind of man he really was, no doubts. And actually, we still don't know the details - just that he was a kind of prisoner of conscience rather, for holding some kind of predarwinian views, than a criminal. But it's not very clear. At first I thought that the book, at least in some part, will be narrated from the Erasmus's point of view, but that turned out to be a wrong impression. In spite of what I wrote above, about withholding the information and leaving some things only partially explained, I felt slightly led by hand by the author - can't explain well what I mean, but everything seemed to me a bit too straightforward.

Historical accuracy and capturing the spirit of times - heh, I've no idea. Somehow I've always disliked the 18 C...

Characters & plot- Matthew Paris seems to be cast as the main actor, he's sure to run into conflict with Thurso, and quite likely, with Erasmus too.

At the moment I'm predicting 3-4 stars rating.
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Old 8th May 2007, 7:32   #29
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Quote:
I've just finished the assigned fragment and am eager to continue.
Excellent - just what the taster 100 pages was meant to achieve! I hope others feel the same way. I should be able to manage another 100 pages or the next two books by the same time next week. (I'm afraid a face-2-face book group read is about to interrupt me.)
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Old 8th May 2007, 21:35   #30
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Default Re: 31 Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

I have also finished the first 100 pages.
Like m. I was not enguaged until the kidnappings of ch.12. Honestly I found the preceeding chapters boring--especially those having to do with Erasmus and The Tempest. I agree with Lizzy that none of the characters are likeable (except Paris, of course...and maybe his aunt...and the fellows who were kidnapped). Because its so clear who the good guys and bad guys are, I disagree that Unsworth withholds judgment. He has prepared us to dislike the Kemps and the ship's officers and to sympathize with Paris, the wrongfully persecuted man of science. Somehow I feel like the main characters are all a bit wooden, which works for Thurso, because I take it he's supposed to be rigid, but doesn't serve the others well. Billy Bains, Dan'l Calley, and the woman who turned in Deakins had some life to them. So far, though, I am not impressed with Paris and I only sympathize with him because that's really all one can do.
Thank goodness we're finally underway though. I 'm sure the story will get more interesting soon. And the Prologue holds out a promise of very interesting developments indeed.
In sum I'm a bit underwhelmed so far, but looking forward to the adventures ahead.
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