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Property (2003)

by Valerie Martin

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9954415,679 (3.74)1 / 242
Manon Gaudet is unhappily married to the owner of a Louisiana sugar plantation. She misses her family and longs for the vibrant lifestyle of her native New Orleans, but most of all, she longs to be free of the suffocating domestic situation. The tension revolves around Sarah, a slave girl who may have been given to Manon as a wedding present from her aunt, whose young son Walter is living proof of where Manon's husband's inclinations lie. This private drama is being played out against a brooding atmosphere of slave unrest and bloody uprisings. And if the attacks reach Manon's house, no one can be sure which way Sarah will turn . . . Beautifully written, Property is an intricately told tale of both individual stories and of a country in a time of change, where ownership is at once everything and nothing, and where belonging, by contrast, is all.… (more)
  1. 40
    The Known World by Edward P. Jones (Alirob)
  2. 40
    March by Geraldine Brooks (RidgewayGirl)
    RidgewayGirl: Another award winning work that sheds light on the full horror of the results of slavery.
  3. 20
    The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts (goddesspt2)
  4. 20
    Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball (kraaivrouw)
  5. 10
    The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Both of these dramatic novels explore the troubled relationships between slaves and slave owners in the American South using strong female protagonists, as well as exploring the issues all women faced during this dark period in history.… (more)
  6. 10
    The Book of Night Women by Marlon James (GCPLreader)
    GCPLreader: amazing novel of slave revolt in Jamaica
  7. 10
    Philida by André Brink (charl08)
    charl08: Similar themes of identity in connection with slavery (but in very different setting).
  8. 01
    Beloved by Toni Morrison (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Although Beloved is set after the Civil War and Property before, both are moving, emotionally wrenching depictions of how slavery unmade not only women's lives and identities, but devalued family relationships and marital stability, to the harm of blacks and whites alike.… (more)
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English (43)  Swedish (1)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Written in the voice of the "lady of the house," Manon and her thought of her husband, the slaves and the relationships. Set in New Orleans in 1828. There's an uprising and Manon's husband is murdered. Sarah, his mistress slave gave away his hiding place. She fights Manon for escape and Manon is injured.
Sarah is captured and brought back. Manon mentions that night and goes on to say...
pg. 192; I'm sure they all made you feel important, very much the poor helpless victim, and no one asked how you got away or whom you left behind."
Sarah says, "When you gets to the North they invites you to the dining room, and they asks you to sit at the table. Then they offers you a cup of tea, and they asks, 'Does you want cram and sugar?'"
Manon: "And this appealed to you?"
Sarah: "Yes."...."It appealed to me."
Manon considered this image of Sarah. She was dressed in borrowed clothes, sitting stiffly at a bare wooden table while a colorless Yankee woman, her thin hair pulled into a tight bun, served her tea in a china cup. The righteous husband fetched a cushion to make their guest more comfortable. It struck her as perfectly ridiculous. What on earth did they think they were doing?

This book is incredibly thought provoking. ( )
  VhartPowers | Dec 27, 2018 |
I am uncertain as to what the author intends you to feel about the characters in this book. It is narrated by the wife of a plantation owner, Manon Gaudet. She is clearly not happy in her life or here marriage, comparing her husband unfavourably to both a friend she'd like to have married and her father, who she perceives as having been perfect. IN fact neither man turns out to have been what she imagines they are, and her husband does something quite unexpected that should cause her to revise her opinion - but doesn't. She's too set in her opinions readily change her views. She is also unable to imagine that anyone else can suffer and that the system she is part of is in any way wrong or damaging to the people it makes use of. So at one level you have sympathy for her, but at another she has no sympathy for the slaves on the plantation and that makes her seem unsympathetic.
The tale revolves around Manon and her house slave, Sarah. Manon imagines that she and Sarah share a bond in that they both have cause to hate her husband, as he has had two children on Sarah (one assumes not willingly, based on his other behaviour). But that manages to overlook the fact that Sarah is not free and Manon is unable to see that.
It is a well written book, eye opening, set at a really interesting place. Subject matter is not easy to read and every now and then there is something that brings you up sharp. An excellent book. ( )
  Helenliz | Jan 23, 2018 |
Calling slavery "bad" sells it short in so many ways: it was a deeply perverse, fucked-up system of economic, social, and violent control that so infected everyday life in the South that it was impossible to escape and ignore. While we've all read about slavery in school, encountering the day-to-day realities is always a shocking experience, no matter how many times you've seen them before or how intellectually prepared you are.

The perverse ideology and "justice" of slavery is difficult to capture in fiction, which is why it's always a pleasure to see a work that does it well. The Known World by Edward P. Jones is my personal favorite, but Property by Valerie Martin also deserves a place in that company. The interesting thing about Martin's approach is picking a white female protagonist, paralleling (but never so callow as to equate) the systems of oppression governing both women and slaves—and at the intersection of both.

I'm hesitant to reveal too much of the book, as it's a slim 200 pages and pretty easy to read in a day as I did. But I should note that the book builds up to a disappointing conclusion. My wife enjoyed it more than I did, but it was a wet fart of an ending that doesn't really pay off on so much raised over the course of the story. It's an important moment for the character, but one that passes by largely unremarked. Some stories can do these kinds of anti-climaxes well—for example, the amazing ending to No Country for Old Men that pissed off so many people in theaters—but Property is not one of them. There's nothing wrong with the last page, except that it's the last. ( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
In 1828 Manon Gaudet is a beautiful and incredibly bitter wife of a Louisiana plantation owner. Her husband is rather mundane in thought and cruel to their slaves. Early in her marriage Manon's slave Sarah becomes her husbands unwilling mistress and mother of his two children. As a result the intelligent Manon passes ten years in isolation, not quite able to mask the hatred and disgust she feels for her husband. Manon's shame with her marriage and boredom of country living is superimposed on a country side seething with disease and rumors of slave revolts. Unable to divorce her husband or prevent him from squandering her inheritance, Manon never quite makes the leap in understanding that in many ways she has no more freedom than Sarah. Her own cage is just slightly more gilded. ( )
  queencersei | Aug 24, 2015 |
This book is set in Louisiana, nearly 40 years before the Civil War. The title of the book has many layers of meaning: Manon Gaudet is the bitter and unhappy wife of a sugar plantation owner who is rapidly descending into bankruptcy; her house slave Sarah who was given to her as a wedding gift in part to get her out of Manon’s parent’s house; the house that is left to her on her mother’s death is scheduled to become her husband’s property, since everything belonging to a woman automatically becomes the property of her husband – she only gets to retain the house due to the death of her husband in a slave uprising.

see the rest of my review here:

https://nordie.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/book-review-property-by-valerie-martin/
  nordie | Jun 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
This one thing we wish to be understood and remembered,--that the Constitution of this State, has made Tom, Dick, and Harry, property--it has made Polly, Nancy, and Molly, property; and be that property an evil, a curse, or what not, we intend to hold it. ---Letter from A.B.C. of Halifax City to the Richmond Whig, January 28, 1832
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To Margaret Atwood, whose help far exceeded the expectations of an already invaluable friendship, this novel is affectionately dedicated.
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Manon Gaudet is unhappily married to the owner of a Louisiana sugar plantation. She misses her family and longs for the vibrant lifestyle of her native New Orleans, but most of all, she longs to be free of the suffocating domestic situation. The tension revolves around Sarah, a slave girl who may have been given to Manon as a wedding present from her aunt, whose young son Walter is living proof of where Manon's husband's inclinations lie. This private drama is being played out against a brooding atmosphere of slave unrest and bloody uprisings. And if the attacks reach Manon's house, no one can be sure which way Sarah will turn . . . Beautifully written, Property is an intricately told tale of both individual stories and of a country in a time of change, where ownership is at once everything and nothing, and where belonging, by contrast, is all.

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Manon Gaudet is unhappily married to the owner of a Louisiana sugar plantation. She misses her family and longs for the vibrant lifestyle of her native New Orleans, but most of all she longs to be free of her suffocating domestic situation,. The tension revolves around Sarah, a slave girl given to Manon as a wedding present from her aunt, whose young son Walter is living proof of where Manon's husband's inclinations lie. This private drama is played out against a brooding atmosphere of slave unrest and bloody uprisings. And if the attacks reach Manon's house, no one can be sure which way Sarah will turn...
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