Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

1992 Booker Prize Winner (Shared)

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth


Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Length: 640 pages

About: 18thC English slavery excused for profiteering

Style: 3rd person

Where: England (Liverpool), At sea (Atlantic) and US (Florida)

When: Mid 18th Century


Publisher’s synopsis:

A blasphemous outcast, Matthew Paris boards the “Liverpool Merchant” as ship’s doctor as it embarks on a mercantile voyage in the slave trade. An illness breaks out among the slaves and crew between Guinea and the West Indies, and slaves are ordered to be tossed overboard in order to claim the insurance. Illness gives rise to mutiny, the captain is killed, and, with Paris as one of the leaders, the ship sails for Florida to establish an egalitarian, interracial society. Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, the loss of the ship has financially ruined its owner, Kemp, who hangs himself. Twelve years later, upon hearing rumours of a utopian community of blacks and whites in Florida, Kemp’s son sets out for revenge.



’’She carried death for the cotton broker who owned her, or so at least his son believed. For Erasmus Kemp it was always to seem that the ship had killed his father, and the thought poisoned his memories. Grief works its own perversions and betrayals; the shape of what we have lost is as subject to corruption as the mortal body, and Erasmus could never afterwards escape the idea that his father had been scenting his own death that drab afternoon in the timber yard on the banks of the Mersey when, amid colours of mud and saffron, he had lowered himself rather awkwardly down to sniff at the newly cut sections of mast for his ship. Not odours of embalmment, nothing sacramental; the reek of his own death.’’



Deftly utilizing a flood of period detail, Unsworth has written a book whose stately pace, like the scope of its meditations, seems accurately to evoke the age. Tackling here a central perversity of our history--the keeping of slaves in a land where ``all men are created equal''--Unsworth illuminates the barbaric cruelty of slavery, as well as the subtler habits of politics and character that it creates.

Publishers Weekly, 6th January 1992 to see full review click here

Not so good:

I enjoyed Sacred Hunger quite a lot for a book of its page count and literary magnitude – I didn’t love it, but I was never reluctant to read it either. If I have an issue with it, it’s in the lack of subtlety. There are quite a few scenes which are shining with contrived symbolism; it’s sort of the literary version of Oscar bait. As I said earlier, I also found the circumstances surrounding the final third to be a bit much, and the character of Paris – while an excellent one – was a bit too conveniently liberal, even for a learned gentleman. On the whole, though, this was a pretty decent book.

Grub Street 4th April 2011 for full review click here


About the author

Barry Unsworth was born in 1930 in Durham. He travelled extensively in Greece and Turkey during the 1960s, teaching at the Universities of Istanbul and Athens. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Barry Unsworth lived in Umbria.

He died on 4th June 2012


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<1991> -  <1993>















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Age guide: 12



Novels by same author:



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2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

Extract from New York Times to view full article...

Click here


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