Women's Prize Longlist 2019 Reviews

Women’s Prize Longlist Review – Remembered

Remembered

 

Publisher: Dialogue Books

Format: Hardback

Pages: 289

Rating: 5/5

Book Depository: Hardback

 

It is 1910 in Philadelphia and there is unrest on the streets. A black man has driven a street car into a shop window. Spring’s beloved son Edward has been put into a coma by angry white onlookers as a result, but is he guilty of the crime they accuse him of? Spring must recall her past to put ghosts at rest and come to terms with potentially losing her only child. 

The story takes us back to the 1800s when slavery was rife. A young girl named Ella is ignoring her parents’ advice by walking through the woods on the way home from church when she is accosted by a white man and stolen with help from someone she considered an ally. Once she arrives at the slave owner’s farm, she is brutally raped and beaten and from this moment onwards she loses her voice, both literally and figuratively. Her future is no longer her own. 

There are a number of highly uncomfortable scenes such as the one mentioned above, and if you feel you would be too triggered by these topics, then I would suggest avoiding this one as it is extremely graphic. However, it is an incredibly important story, simply for how much truth is held within it. For example, I had no idea slave owners continued to keep slaves after the abolition of slavery with the law looking the other way. This is a product of my naivete as a white person, and I need to continue to educate myself through this effective medium of literature. 

The writing is fantastic, a sense of chaos emanates from the page, and as a reader, you feel real panic for the characters. Battle-Felton’s descriptions do not shy away from the truth, and can be brutal, but can equally be beautiful. There is a juxtaposition in the way she writes that works well in telling this story. 

Spring and Tempe have a strong, realistic sisterly relationship, and the character development for both of them is rich and complex. As the story unfolds, you begin to understand how these two women are related to other important characters and everything falls into place. There is a whole cast of characters, all of whom are relevant. Sometimes in books with a large cast, you see some of them become neglected or sidelined, but this does not occur with Remembered. Every person brings something to the narrative – even if they are only in the book for a short time, they continue to haunt our mind throughout. 

There is an overarching theme of superstition, as Walker, the slave owner, believes his farm is haunted or cursed. This is because none of the women have been successful in birthing children since Agnes was born, and she is a little older than Ella. We do come to realise that the reason for the lack of new life on the farm is human not supernatural, as Mama Skins is introduced, and we see her role as a doctor is not simply to cure people. The inclusion of superstition highlights just how ridiculous some of the excuses to keep slaves were. 

Newspaper clippings are interspersed between some chapters, which is effective in reminding us that the events taking place in the story are real. It keeps the reader grounded, and adds to the shock felt whilst reading. The ending is especially effective, as we see Edward’s friend Jacob visit him in hospital, providing closure for both Spring and the reader. The final newspaper clipping shows there is a vicious cycle of violence against black people and that freedom must be reclaimed in some way each time through riots, protests, or even war. The fact that black people are still being targeted today, especially by police shows we haven’t come as far as the media would like us to believe. Black people should not have to fight for their human rights, and we can all do more to help dissolve the racism that has become ingrained in certain parts of society.

I thoroughly recommend this one, it definitely deserves its place on the Women’s Prize Longlist, and I sincerely hope it manages to gain a place on the shortlist. It is currently my joint favourite alongside Freshwater and as it stands, I would be happy if either of these won. 

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