Sunday, 10 December 2017

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead


I wanted to like this book, and I’m surprised I didn’t.  It won the Pulitzer, and for the first hundred pages or so, seemed really promising: well plotted, intricate in the world it created, tightly paced – everything you expect from the Pulitzer.  Then it kind of went off the rails. 

UNDERGROUND RAILROAD  tells the story of a slave called Cora who manages to escape from her ‘owner’.  Up to and including the escape, the story is very engaging.  Then she gets recaptured, escapes again, then she gets recaptured, escapes again – you get the idea.  I guess this could work, but Cora doesn’t really develop over the course of these various incidents.  She stays just the same, so after a while all this incident starts to read like fiction from before the Renaissance – Everyman, or Pilgrim’s Progress – where the point is not the story so much as the moral of the story.  Which could also work, but then what is the moral?  I have no idea.  What I got from it, is: slavery is bad.  Agreed.  But I think that was already clear, and made clear in much finer novels than this.  I recommend, for this lesson in the fiction, the gobsmacking: THE KNOWN WORLD by Edward P Jones, another Pulizter winner on slavery, and by far the better book.  Or THE HISTORY OF MARY PRINCE, by Mary Prince, where an escaped slave, tells you all about it herself.

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