Review by Katie
September 1, 2020
"Beloved" by Toni Morrison is a historical fiction novel that follows the life of Sethe, a woman born into slavery who escaped to Cincinnati, Ohio. Its use of paranormal elements creates a debate on its place in the horror genre, but the novel’s haunting qualities are undeniable. The book begins in 1873, opening with the description of the haunted house that Sethe and her daughter Denver reside in. The ghost attached to the house is Sethe’s baby daughter’s spirit, who died nameless. The feelings that the residents of this house have toward the ghost are polarizing; Sethe believes it drove her two sons to run away and Paul D, an escaped slave from the same plantation as Sethe, is similarly horrified by it. However, Denver and Sethe are somewhat comforted by it. The novel explores intergenerational trauma and the indelible devastation of slavery that lives with Sethe, even in her freedom. Soon, a mysterious young woman named Beloved enters Sethe’s life in unknown circumstances. As her character becomes understood, the already incredible prose begins to feel revolutionary as it reveals a terrifying insight in an utterly unique way.
Morrison creates an intricate web of poetry, metaphor, and reality in every sentence of the novel. It reinforced the mood of the novel and created a style that is unmatched by any other author. The book seamlessly alternates between past and present, signifying the invasive shadow that the characters’ pasts still cast over them. Additionally, Morrison’s genre-blending of historical fiction and horror posed harrowing questions over the nature of history; is reality truly different than terror? Is horror separable from history at all?
Everything about this book was singular and unflinching. Its characters and story were as enchanting as they were horrifying. The prose made it feel dreamlike, and the plot made it feel brutal. It was a perfect novel and proves Morrison as a trailblazer whose work will forever be admired. It is a novel that has to be not just read, but experienced.