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10 thoughts on “Sacred Hunger

  1. Violet wells Violet wells says:

    Another bloated Booker prize winner Shared the prize with the infinitely sophisticated and innovative The English Patient Another baffling decision on the part of the judges The English Patient is a torchbearer of how nimble and ironically self regarding historical fiction will become in the 21st century I'm thinking of Hilary Mantel and David Mitchell This on the other hand is old school historical fiction No irony no mischief no architectural sleights of hand Unsworth goes for authenticity of tone which unfortunately often creates a rather leaden feel most damningly represented by the journal the doctor on the slave ship writes Here we're treated to lots of Victorian soul searching which might have been realistic but to me was also dreary and meant I had little sympathy for the hero of this novel In fact I was attracted to the baddie Erasmus without uestion the best character in the novel His inept courting of a girl during the rehearsals for an amateur performance of The Tempest was the best part of the whole novel for me In fact that was the only relationship in the entire novel that interested me Life on board the slave ship should have been highly charged and gripping; instead because of the nature of the journal the telling instead of showing and the wholly predictable relationships between the goodies and baddies it was dull There was also the problem that the characters of most interest were the slaves themselves but we learn nothing about them Instead we get detailed intimate accounts of many of the rather dreary motley crew of sailors In fact Unsworth spends way too much time focusing on minor characters who indulge in pages of pointless chit chat I soon learned one could skip these pages without losing a shred of significance to the book's plot which begs the uestion why are they there? The novel repeatedly went out of focus for me The novel's fulcrum is the lifelong enmity Erasmus feels towards his cousin the surgeon It never made much sense to me Was Erasmus gay? That's the only explanation I can come up with why a man would hate another man because he felt slighted by him when they were children On the good side Unsworth clearly wrote this novel with lots of love this actually becomes a problem because it causes him to get carried away with all his minor characters who might be vivid to him but were often vague to me because there were so many of them and all with similar names And he can write well And it was excellently researched He does a good job of evoking the base mercantile spirit of Empire but failed to dramatise it effectively for me

  2. ·Karen· ·Karen· says:

    Historical novels are a somewhat gimcrack genre not exactly jammed with greatness according to James Wood in the New Yorker Where he is however exceeding polite to Ms MantelI can only imagine that this is one of those rarities whose existence he grudgingly allows It is magnificent It was magnificent the first time I read it all those years ago when it shared the Booker prize with The English Patient and it retains its magnificence now A re read is always a new experience this time round I knew exactly where we were going so my attention was better directed on how we were getting there The structure is an object lesson in plotting with a breathtaking hiatus at the highest point of tension and strife on board the ship The exuisite torture of what happened next is drawn out to the almost but not uite unbearable Even wondrous is the way that the whole action is entirely grounded in character and not a single false note among those myriad lives But perhaps the most impressive aspect is how such a story of the appalling past can illuminate our oh so much civilised present As a moral tale of the depredations of greed the sacred hunger of the title it was first written in the immediate aftermath of the Thatcher years As I wrote I began to see strongly that there were inescapable analogies You couldn't really live through the Eighties without feeling how crass and distasteful some of the economic doctrines were The slave trade is a perfect model for that kind of total devotion to the profit motive without reckoning the human conseuences uote taken from his obituary in The IndependentHow much relevant now as we see the fallout from another case of total devotion to the profit motive without reckoning the human conseuences?Mr Unsworth died just last month from lung cancer

  3. Collin Collin says:

    In 1992 the Man Booker prize was shared for the first time Now everybody remembers “The English Patient” but fewer remember the book that tied with it which is a shame because it is a wonderful bookSacred Hunger opens with Erasmus Kemp’s father showing him the construction of his ship the LIVERPOOL MERCHANT His father loves watching over the building of the ship and explaining techniues and parts to his son However due to the war with France and the economy his father is badly in debt but he firmly believes the ship to be his salvation The ship will be a slaver and trade slaves on the market Erasmus however thinks that this ship will be the instrument of his doomHis cousin Mathew Paris unbeknownst to most has been recently released from prison and is to be the ship’s surgeon An important and vital job Erasmus and Paris do not get along The captain of the ship Saul Thurso a man who cannot control his anger and fits of rage is upset with Paris’ inclusion in the ship’s crew Even so when he finds out that he is the nephew of William Kemp He believes that Kemp does not trust his experience in the selection of slaves and has added Paris to oversee this jobOrphaned at four born and raised by the sea Captain Thurso is such a character Every passage that he is involved in is a delight to read predominantly because of his dialogue and manner He oozes this undercurrent of potential violence seemingly ready to draw his sword and spill your guts at the slightest provocation I cannot envision a better Captain for the Liverpool Merchant and this storyAlong with Captain Thurso Unsworth fleshes out the cast with some wonderful characters who make up the rest of the crew Billy Blair just back from a voyage is looking to spend his earnings in the local tavern with rum and women when he falls prey to the dreaded press gang who add him to the crew violently No violence Is needed with Daniel Calley Calley is none too bright and the promise of an Africa filled with adventure women fruit you just pick off the trees is easily enough to convince him to join the crew Jim Deaken is a runaway from the navy who is turned in by his friend’s wife for the moneySlavery plays a large role in this book and its abolishment is the goal of Paris after he leads a mutiny and establishes a settlement on the coast of Florida hidden away from the rest of the world Paris envisions a utopia where everybody is treated eually and held accountable for their actions He desires for every man woman and child of this fledgling settlement to live in harmony and peace An environment where none of the inhabitants burn with the “sacred hunger” for power money and classUnsworth’s writing is highly descriptive and captures the sualid horrible claustrophobic conditions of what it must have been like for the slaves and crew travelling these trade routes The navigation the food the endless monotony and boredom faced when not trying to paradoxically survive a storm very capable of sinking the shipEverything about this novel the narrative the characters the prose is stellar and deserving of sharing the Man Booker prize of 1992 For me it’s a shame that it seems to spend its life in “The English Patients” shadow because it deserves 5 Stars

  4. Paul Bryant Paul Bryant says:

    Here's another 5 star novel I never reviewed Barry Unsworth was an English guy son of a miner something he has in common with DH Lawrence and importantly with me He knocked out all kinds of interesting novels and this is a real pearl all about slavery so of course it's a historical horror story In the middle of the story there's a ship that finds itself randomly beached on the coast of pre Miami Florida and the slaves and sailors then get busy and create for themselves a nearly utopian settlementAnd the novel turns into a very extreme exercise in authorial ventrilouism Barry Unsworth is imagining himself into the minds of characters who are from the 18th century from Africa female Yes a couple of the main characters are patois speaking African women from the 17th century That's uite a breath taking daring leap of imagination for a Durham miner's lad And he does it with elan I was uite convincedSo a Booker Prize winner which is well worth reading You know it's mathematically impossible for them to get it wrong all the time

  5. Natalie Natalie says:

    Such an unsettling book One that demanded from my senses emotions thoughts than I ever expected it would It preoccupied me it made me feel sick it taught me it even entertained me at times but rarely It was not that kind of book not the kind you can read for entertainment or enlightment alone Rather it is a book that demands that contorts that expands and contracts your heart til it cracks A book where the author demands the reader pay the price of turning the page In Ethan Canin's review on NPR he said I like my masterpieces straight up It's 640 pages without a literary trick NO experimentation with prose No stream of consciousness Just page after page of the most harrowing and vivid writing I first came upon this book nearly a decade ago; it moved me as deeply as anything I'd ever read How many books make that claim on the reader? This one does

  6. Michael Michael says:

    A fascinating and earnest piece of historical fiction It doesn't possess the layered ironies of some of Unsworth's other work and I did miss that but overall it's very well done

  7. Brad Brad says:

    This review was written in the late nineties for my eyes only and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal in which it was written I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago although suare brackets may indicate some additional information for the sake of readability or some sort of commentary from now This is one of my lost reviewsthe sky took on a look of readiness for the dark that depthless clarity which is no colour and the womb of all coloursFor me this is one of the most powerful descriptions of twilight I've ever read Yet Unsworth's book is much than rich language In the characters of Matthew Paris and Erasmus Kemp he captures the opposing forces of my own soulThe slave trading vessels of our history are a perfect stage for this battle to play out and the paradise of Kenku Stardust is a perfect stage for its culminationSlavery is my home country's greatest personal tragedy and the I know of it the I take on the shame of it myself I wish there was something I could do to wipe away that shame and repay those who suffered There's blood on our hands even though we didn't sail on those ships

  8. Chrissie Chrissie says:

    This book is about England and her role in the slave trade It is also about how men and women thought in the mid 1700s how they viewed justice and freedom and success and those of the opposite sex In its accurate depiction of these times it is an excellent work of historical fiction Here follows a uote from chapter 40 so you can judge how you may react It is a diary entry written by Paris the surgeon on the Liverpool Merchant slave ship April 26 I continue in spite of these terrible conditions to hold long conversations with Delblanc and they are a solace to me though I consider him not enough of a realist He maintains there could be a world a society without victims and without injustice where the weakness of one was not an invitation to the strength of another except to succor or protect I go so far with him as to believe it true that the moral character of man is formed by what happens to him in the world and that our nature originates in external circumstances Why then do we languish under wars and tyrannies? Delblanc would say it is due to the harmful effect of government upon usSuch philosophical thoughts would certainly be typical of the times 1752 with the Enlightenment in full swing The writing perfectly mirrors those times Nevertheless I found parts uite tedious It is hard today to put yourself back into that mindset We do not see the world as they did then The book describes what is happening in different milieux for example a drama performance being planned for a birthday celebration in London life aboard a slave ship life in a new British colony and in a renegade “settlement” Each is done with precision Unsworthy is depicting different worlds coexisting side by side The contrast is alarming I listened to the audiobook narrated by David Rintoul It was easy to follow He expertly switched between different dialects the speech of blacks Native Americans Europeans the upper class and the poorest of the English the Irish and the Scottish He did not over emphasize the Pidgin English found in the text He simply read what was written there in the lines without adding any additional degrading undertone This I appreciated For me it is very hard to listen to or read Pidgin English It gives so little nuance to what the characters are saying or meaning It is just plain boringWhat I am trying to say is that although the lines perfectly depicted each situation I still did not enjoy the reading experience Some authors are able to make another way of thinking so understandable that it is not repulsive Was it that the author failed to make me empathize with the characters? Was it that there is little humor? Was it that I dislike reading Pidgin English? An excellent work of historical fiction but not enjoyable to read or listen to I am not saying it isn’t worth reading

  9. El El says:

    I once had a dream where I saw myself in a mirror and looked myself directly in the eyes It was one of the most disconcerting dreams I've ever had since most of my dreams aren't uite that directReading this book gave me a similar feeling Unsworth wrote not just about slaves on a slave ship He wrote about humans looking me another human directly in the eyes I felt the same thing that I felt in that dreamAnd that's amazingThis book broke my heart

  10. Trevor Trevor says:

    Soon after midnight the first of the land breeze began making along the river and Thurso ordered sail to be got up and all to be made ready for purchasing anchor At two they weighed an got out to sea the wind by this time giving a good offing In the ocver of darkness as uietly as possible the Liverpool Merchant began to steer a course south eastward but when the ship met the deep sea well the rhythm of her movement changed and the people in the cramped and fetid darkness of the hold understanding that they had lost all hope of returning to their homes set up a great cry of desolation and despair that carried over the water to the other ships in the road and the slaves in the holds of the ships heard it and answered with wild shouts and screams so that for people lying awake in village in villages along the shore and solitary fishermen up before dawn there was a period when the night resounded with the echoes of lamentationSacred Hunger is a difficult read passages like this one are piercing painful to really digest and admit But this is an important book Unsworth's insight into the complex motives behind greed dominion mercy and kindness make this much than a simple story about a slave ship in the mid 1700s In fact in this book we see these emotions and attributes come up in almost all relationships between man and woman between captain and sailor between English and Native American between one tribe and another between parents and children Its a complex world but Unsworth makes it flow smoothly Also even though there are many relationships which all are used to further themes this book is far from contrived The characters and their relationships are real and familiar that's what's scaryIn Sacred Hunger there is mutiny aboard a slave ship The whites and blacks begin their own community in south Florida Meanwhile the ship owner's son single mindedly seeks revenge against the crew particularly against his cousin the ship's doctor But it is not that simple Even while the new community is attempting to grow into a free society where there are no distinctions between blacks and whites Unsworth shows just how difficult such a task is In the dialogue Unsworth has the ability to show the feelings of the slave traders while instilling pure irony'Tis a terrible trade them not in it will never know the hardships to see your profits dribblin' in the sea an' nothin' you can doSuch passages are amusing at the same time they evoke reprehension But in a frightening way they made me think about how many awful things we do today without uite understanding how ridiculous our position is Then there are the illuminating yet discouraging passagesNothing a man suffers will prevent him from inflicting suffering on othersThis book recognizes the difficulties inherent in trying to live in an eual society In fact some of its interesting passages deal with building a community through rhetorical strategy While I didn't feel like it was a fully fleshed theme story telling and legend making definitely are important especially since the story is based on the ramblings of an old mulatto many years after the story has endedBut mainly he talked of a Liverpool ship of a white father who had been a doctor aboard her and had never died a childhood of wonders in a place of eternal sunshine jungle hummocks great flocks of white birds rising from flooded savannahs a settlement where white and black lived together in perfect accordThis is a great contender for the Best of the Booker over the last forty years I wish it had attention especially considering this anniversary year for the US and last year's for the UK 200 years since the abolition of the slave trade across the Atlantic If only it had truly ended then but Unsworth's book offers some bitter insight into why it didn'tYou can read my full review on my blog The Mookse and the Gripes

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Sacred Hunger ❮Reading❯ ➷ Sacred Hunger Author Barry Unsworth – Sacred Hunger is a stunning and engrossing exploration of power domination and greed Filled with the sacred hunger to expand its empire and its profits England entered full into the slave trade and sp Sacred Hunger is a stunning and engrossing exploration of power domination and greed Filled with the Sacred Hunger to expand its empire and its profits England entered full into the slave trade and spread the trade throughout its colonies In this Booker Prize winning work Barry Unsworth follows the failing fortunes of William Kemp a merchant pinning his last chance to a slave ship; his son who needs a fortune because he is in love with an upper class woman; and his nephew who sails on the ship as its doctor because he has lost all he has loved The voyage meets its demise when disease spreads among the slaves and the captain's drastic response provokes a mutiny Joining together the sailors and the slaves set up a secret utopian society in the wilderness of Florida only to await the vengeance of the single minded young Kemp.