Sugar Money by Jane Harris

2/05/2018

Sugar Money
Author: Jane Harris
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: 3rd October 2017
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery
Martinique, 1765, and brothers Emile and Lucien are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, with a mission. They must return to Grenada, the island they once called home, and smuggle back the 42 slaves claimed by English invaders at the hospital plantation in Fort Royal. While Lucien, barely in his teens, sees the trip as a great adventure, the older and worldlier Emile has no illusions about the dangers they will face. But with no choice other than to obey Cleophas - and sensing the possibility, however remote, of finding his first love Celeste - he sets out with his brother on this 'reckless venture'.

With great characters, a superb narrative set up, and language that is witty, bawdy and thrillingly alive, Sugar Money is a novel to treasure.


I've not enjoyed a book this much in YEARS! It's completely rekindled my love of historical fiction. Jane Harris deals with a period in history, that is truly shameful and horrifying, with grace and without too much whitewashing, although I think there was a little...

My ears strain to discern any sound beyond the massed flutes and recorders of a million frogs and insects. Now and then, fireflies sparkle past my face like fragments of charcoal carried on the breeze.


Our narrator is 12 year old Lucien and I have to say that I've never read a book with such a rounded, believable, non-irritating, child narrator. He is wise beyond his years, speaks with broken English, has childish moments that remind you he is just 12, and yet he carries this story perfectly. I always worry about first person narration, especially from a child's point of view, that we won't get a sense of place. Or if we do, it will seem forced, but his voice never feels like a gimmick, never irritates and the descriptions of the landscape were fitting and evocative. I think it was perfect actually.

There is a sense of foreboding throughout the novel. As soon as they are given the mission by the friars, armed with a power of attorney that neither of them can read properly, you just know it won't have a happy ending. The brothers blossoming relationship, through Lucien's eyes, makes this book even harder to read and at points I really didn't want to finish it, knowing it would be tough.

'Well done bug,' he said. 'Good man.' Well, that was the first time he had ever call me a man. My heart swelled up like a globefish.


Now. Onto the potential whitewashing, I'm still not sure. This is a tricky one. On the one hand I believe this could have been a conscious decision. By narrating from Lucien's point of view perhaps we are protected from some of the horrors the brothers encounter. We know Lucien has been whipped in the past as he has the scars from it, but you get the impression his brother has been through a lot worse. When Lucien does witness some of the brutality later on in the book it is all the more shocking precisely because we haven't encountered it yet. We are reminded that the slaves are simply being offered life as slaves somewhere else, but without being told the horrors that Lucien and Emile face on their own island it's hard not to get caught up in the feeling that they're on a rescue mission. Again, this could be entirely consciously done to emphasise how the other slaves may be feeling, or Jane Harris has actively avoided the brutality of the time in order for the book to be an enjoyable romp. It would make a blumming great book club read let's put it that way.

The ending was disappointing for me. The book didn't end in the right place as far as I was concerned. For those that have read it, I could have done without the neatly tied up, afterword type letters at the end. I think the reader could have come to their own conclusions as to what fate our protagonist ultimately meets.

These criticisms did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I thought it was fantastic and has quickly shot up to one of my favourite historical fiction reads of all time. I want to read more about the slave trade, I am shamefully ignorant so if anyone can recommend any further reading I would appreciate it.



Verdict:
Story - 5/5
Writing - 5/5
Character - 4/5
Memorability - 4/5
Enjoyment - 5/5
Overall rating - 4.5/5

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