Updated on May 19, 2015
21. ‘Sula’ by Toni Morrison
I read Sula in preparation for seeing Toni Morrison at the Hay Festival, because it is the shortest book of hers that I own and I wanted to refresh my memory of her style before seeing her. As soon as I started reading it felt familiar: the strong characters, the authoritative narrative voice, and the very strong sense of community that are so indicative of her other novels.
Sula, the titular character, is a girl born in The Bottom, the home of a black community high in the hills above a white-populated city. The town is filled with unusual characters, such as the ex-soldier Shadrack who invents annual Suicide Day and Eva, Sula’s grandmother, who has some very complex and sometimes violent interactions with her children. These characters live their lives very closely: friendships are strong and often tested and tragedy is never far away, so the community has to be very accepting of their Fate.
Sula is an amazing character. The books has two sections, one focusing on her childhood and the other showing her life ten years later, and you can see the development of her strong personality and streak of independence throughout. The book is essentially about personality and shaping yourself: Sula is grasping at uniqueness in a world that is trying to homogenize her. This is a community struggle too as they fight against simplistic stereotypes. Their frustrations eventually build up to a boiling point from which there is no return.
Sex is very important in this book. Some characters have fairly traditional attitudes towards sex, whilst others are very relaxed and see it as merely another way in which to express themselves. Much of the story is told from the perspective of the women in the town; these are women struggling to decide what they want out of life, women forming friendships with each other, women who love men. Overall it’s an intriguing book, filled with carefully drawn characters and written by an indisputable master. I loved it, of course!
If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?