Book Review: Property, by Valerie Martin

Property: A NovelProperty: A Novel by Valerie Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Property is narrated by Manon, a wealthy plantation owner's wife. She is living with her husband, for whom she bears nothing but hatred and contempt, and the slaves on the place, including her husband's mistress, Sarah. Sarah was brought to the plantation and Manon's life as a gift from Manon's aunt, on the occasion of her marriage, because her uncle was much too interested in this beautiful light-skinned woman. Sarah has borne two children to Manon's husband, one a wild (view spoiler) child called Walter, who inspires disgust in Manon.
Manon isn't a nice woman, yet one sympathizes with her because she is as much a slave in her marriage as the people who work on the plantation. She has no say at all in the way the place is run, and can only watch helplessly as her husband drains the coffers, mistreats the slaves and sleeps with Sarah. Manon takes a perverse pleasure in keeping Sarah close by, wanting to hurt Sarah as much as she is hurt, even while knowing that Sarah hates her owner as much as his wife does.
Manon's mother falls dreadfully ill, which causes her to come to New Orleans to care for her mother. During this time, she entertains a dashing and amusing fellow that she has known for years, and starts to fall in love with him. (view spoiler), she imagines being able to live in her mother's house and be a free woman, but knows that she will have to return to her husband and that he will sell the house and lose the inheritance with his poor management.
(view spoiler)
Manon is a product of her time, a woman deranged by the cruelty of her circumstance. She displays strength in her cruelty towards Sarah, who is surprisingly not a totally sympathetic character. Manon is enslaved by her bitterness, as surely as she was by her husband. You are left holding the book and wanting a resolution, which you won't get, and it's a perfect ending for Property.

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