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The Quality of Mercy (Sacred Hunger #2)

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  477 Ratings  ·  99 Reviews
The Quality of Mercy opens in the spring of 1767, in the immediate aftermath of the events in Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger. It follows the fortunes of two central characters from that book: Sullivan, an Irish fiddler, and Erasmus Kemp, the son of a disgraced Liverpool slave-ship owner who hanged himself

To avenge his father's death, Erasmus Kemp has had the rebellious sa
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 11th 2011 by Hutchinson (first published September 1st 2011)
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Feb 05, 2012 Felice rated it it was amazing
In the spirit of full disclosure I want to tell you that Barry Unsworth is one of my favorite authors. His Man Booker Prize winning novel Sacred Hunger is one of my all time revered, most recommend, if-it-turns-out-you-don’t-appreciate-it-don’t-tell-because-I-will-think-less-of-you books. When I found out a few months ago that Unsworth’s new novel would be a sequel to Sacred Hunger, The Quality ofMercy, my excitement was strong enough to be slightly embarrassing.

There is always a question with
Sep 20, 2012 Philip rated it it was amazing
At first sight, The Quality Of Mercy by Barry Unsworth might appear to be a sequel. Sacred Hunger, the novel that won the author the Booker Prize, is a vast and highly moving tale about the slave trade. The Quality Of Mercy continues some of the loose ends that Sacred Hunger left, but it goes far beyond being a mere adjunct to its larger predecessor. The Quality Of Mercy makes its own points, just as significant as those of Sacred Hunger, but its form is more succinct and, in some ways, its mess ...more
Robert Strandquist
May 25, 2012 Robert Strandquist rated it it was amazing
Shelves: while-in-belgium
Masterful - Barry Unsworth weaves a wide web of complex sub-plots in a narrow time frame that are bound more by the theme of social justice than by the coincidences of their interactions. I love his style of writing that blends the atmosphere of the late 1760's with the psychological sensitivity of the 20th century. It's masterfully written. The omniscient narrator leaves nothing for readers to wonder about. Every certainty in a character's attitude is counterbalance by a doubt in another's. I r ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
I think Robert Strandquist's review is the best review that suits what I would say about this book.

I would add that the excellence of 'The Quality of Mercy' relies on the way it tackles so much and does it so well. Unsworth has written a historical novel that captures the sounds, scents, dress, and even the English household accroutrements of the middle 18th century. In 300 pages he has deftly strung together the atmospheres of living stranded in Florida, being aboard a slave ship and inside an
Mij Woodward
One of my favorite books ever.

The reason for that is because it was such a high to have my eyes opened, not only about the slave trade, the landed gentry, coal mining and more in England during the 1760's, but also about how it is that people do the things they do sometimes.

Toward the end, I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN!!!! I forced my husband to wait for any conversation at our morning coffee yesterday until I had finally reached the last page, and then I forced him to listen to me go on and on
Feb 26, 2012 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A worthy sequel to the excellent Sacred Hunger, I'm glad I didn't have to wait twenty years between books and that I was able to read them consecutively instead. Not quite as epic or grand in scale as its predecessor, it's still very, very good book, though I wonder how it would be received by someone who hadn't read the first one. As with the first, it is an accurate re-creation of late 18th-century England, and though less focused on slavery it does not ignore the subject entirely and effectiv ...more
Ron Charles
Nov 22, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No one can accuse Barry Unsworth of letting the success of “Sacred Hunger” rush him into a sequel. It’s been 20 years since his epic story about the English slave trade won the Booker Prize. By now, some of the readers who enjoyed that novel have died; everyone else will need a refresher. But Unsworth is one of the greatest living historical novelists, and this is what he does best: He entices us back into a past gloriously appointed with archival detail and moral complexity.

“The Quality of Merc
Jun 08, 2012 Veronica rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I finished reading this yesterday, and today I learned that Barry Unsworth had died. He was a very talented historical novelist, although none of his other books, including this, matched up to Sacred Hunger, one of the best historical novels I've read.

That's not to say this isn't a good book, just that it doesn't have the intensity and drama of Sacred Hunger. It's about mercy and justice, much of it taken up with court cases, so inevitably it's less exciting and more contemplative. I didn't feel
Aug 26, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

What a sad thing that this was Barry Unsworth's last book, especially since it seemed to hint at a sequel at the very end.

As it is, The Quality of Mercy is itself a sequel to his award-winning Sacred Hunger, which told the tale of a slave ship crew and "cargo" who rose up to take over their foundered ship and then live as a polyglot community in Florida.

In "Quality," the multiracial idyll in Florida has been shattered by Erasmus Kemp, the son of the slave ship owner (who committed suicide after
Mar 14, 2012 DROPPING OUT rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Almost twenty years and six novels and other writings separate The Quality of Mercy and Sacred Hunger. If Unsworth has planned a trilogy, I hope it appears sooner, given my age, rather than later. There is a darkness to Savage Hunger reflected in the slaving industry and the institution of slavery. The Quality of Mercy deals more with the legal and moral implications of the industry and institution.
Again, Unsworth delineates wonderfully memorable characters, both heroes and anti-heroes. Extended
Description: A sequel to Sacred Hunger follows the fortunes of two central characters from that book: Sullivan, an Irish fiddler, and Erasmus Kemp, the son of a disgraced Liverpool slave-ship owner who hung himself.

To avenge his father's death, Erasmus Kemp has had the rebellious sailors of his father's ship, including Sullivan, brought back to London to stand trial on charges of mutiny and piracy. But as the novel opens, a blithe Sullivan has escaped and is making his way on foot to the north
Carol Peters
Feb 23, 2016 Carol Peters rated it really liked it
Unsworth is good. This is not Sacred Hunger, but I enjoyed it very much. Set at the time & about the arguments raised when England was deciding whether or not to support slavery.
Jul 29, 2012 Kathleen rated it liked it
Very well written and interesting. A look at the 18th century slave trade, but indirectly through the lives of several British citizens impacted by it. The author does a great job creating interesting complex characters of many different types and gets inside their heads to very deftly explore their motivations and the consequences of their actions. The book feels very true to life and relatable.

There is also an interesting look at the financial systems of the times, and several very seperate c
Jan 18, 2015 Marvin rated it really liked it
This is a fine sequel to Sacred Hunger, and I'm glad that I read them so close together; I'm not sure this would stand as well on its own as some other sequels do. We see some of the same characters as in the earlier book, with the son of the ship's owner from the earlier story at the center of this one, though the story is more diffuse here, making its impact somewhat more diffuse as well, but that is compensated for by a greater breadth of impact; there are many "lessons" here taught by one ch ...more
May 30, 2012 Tuck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this goes with booker prize "sacred hunger" and MUST BE READ IN ORDER (sorry, but is just must) , and this story follows up with the slave exporter and the mutineers. rich guy decides to buy a coal mine, so gets him some slaves of his own, and lets one of the mutineers free instead of hanging him. hence mercy.


Sep 04, 2015 Terry rated it it was ok
Unsworth wrote the award winning 'Sacred Hunger' of which this is said to be a sequel. I felt that the novel was complete and didn't need any previous knowledge of characters, setting (1760s) or plot based in the fiercely contested world of the self-interested slave owners and the abolitionists who stood to gain nothing financial from the ending of slavery.

The lives of Durham colliers features strongly and there is a meditation running through the novel on the nature of freedom, both for literal
Sep 28, 2013 S. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
Unsworth is a good storyteller, and his prose is excellent. I did feel, however, that some of the characters is this book were rather cardboard. I also think that any book that ends with the phrase "dream of freedom" has failed itself.
Oct 28, 2015 Maeta rated it did not like it
I really started this book about a week ago, but did not think to put it here until yesterday.

This book had delusions of grandeur. While it strove, quite uselessly, to be a story with the depth of story and character as a Dickens or even an Austen novel, it ends up being shallow and derived, filled with characters difficult to care for or even mildly like. They are all one dimensional. And the story line, which had definite possibilities and could have gone far, was never fully developed to its
Jun 15, 2015 Ian rated it really liked it
This is sequel to Barry Unsworth's Booker-prize winning novel, "Sacred Hunger" which I read about 20 years ago and which I thought was a magnificent achievement in both plot and characterisation. I had been unsure about reading a sequel in case it detracted from the original novel, but in fact I wasn't at all disappointed with "The Quality of Mercy". It doesn't have the epic sweep of "Sacred Hunger" but is still a high quality novel. Like "Sacred Hunger" the chapters in this novel alternate betw ...more
I was less than impressed with this book. It was written in 2011 in the style of Dickens (working conditions of the poor) and Hardy (pastoral love stories with some grit thrown in), but ultimately it felt to me as if it was just too forced and intentional.

First, everything was just too contrived. Sullivan escapes, but heads to Durham which is where Kemp is newly interested in coal mines; Kemp's arch-enemy in the fight for the insurance on the slaves is Ashton who is brother to Kemp's newfound lo
Jul 29, 2012 Sheri rated it liked it
Enjoyable, but on a much lower level than Sacred Hunger, which it follows. Erasmus Kemp was a compelling figure in the first book -- complex, intriguing -- but much more cartoonish here. The plot happens, but does not compel in any significant way, and none of the characters are developed sufficiently to become more than simple carriers of the story line. The final paragraph briefly mentions events in some minor characters' lives much later in time, which seems to be a rather clumsy connection t ...more
Apr 29, 2013 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 26, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The prequel to this book won the Booker Prize in 1992 an this is worthy follow up. I loved Sacred Hunger and was fearful this would not live up to its predecessor, but it does. Although it certainly can stand on its own, reading Sacred Hunger first will enlighten the reader to the two main characters in the novel. This is historical fiction at its best - a thoughtful examination of people and their time in history. Set in the late 18th century, its thrust is the disparity between the rich and th ...more
Jun 07, 2012 April rated it it was ok
Once again, here I go giving lukewarm reviews to Booker Prize authors. Something about this book just left me seemed formulaic in some way. The writing was wonderfully descriptive and lovely; I also enjoyed the way the book moved back and forth between different points of view. However, you have the unusual proto-feminist as the only fully explored female character in the book, set in England in the late 1700s. You have her brother, the fully sympathetic abolitionist, and then you have ...more
Oct 14, 2015 Adriana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 5-star, 2013
Superb! This is an exquisitely written book. The way Mr. Unsworth wove multiple stories and characters together made me feel like I was reading Dickens, particularly the way he wrapped it all up so up nicely at the end. He obviously researched his subject matters thoroughly. Both of the stories dealing with social injustice were thoroughly engrossing. We all took U.S. history in high school, and those who went to college took it again there. So we all know the horrors of slavery and of mining. T ...more
I thought the Sacred Hunger was complete in itself and that it did not need a sequel. But, Unsworth wrote an extremely compelling character in Erasmus Kemp and when I figured out Quality of Mercy was about him, I was quite happy to read it. But Erasmus of this book is just not as compelling as the one in Sacred Hunger. His adversary if that is who he is - Frederick Ashton - is no Matthew Paris.

It's actually quite pointless, this story. The mutineers come back with Kemp to England and are in pri
Praveen Palakkazhi
Sep 04, 2013 Praveen Palakkazhi rated it liked it
A worthy follow up to the amazing Booker winner 'Sacred Hunger'. Not quite of the scope and depth of that one, but a very good piece of historical fiction nonetheless. It takes off after the events of Sacred Hunger, where the mutineers are all awaiting trial and probable execution. However, in very fortitious circumstances, the fiddler Sullivan escapes and decides to make a long journey to the mining town of Durham to let his pal Billy Blair's kin know of his fate. At the same time, Erasmus Kemp ...more
Derek Bridge
Dec 16, 2012 Derek Bridge rated it really liked it
Unsworth died this year (2012). Booker Prize aside, he was insufficiently regarded. He leaves a mighty oeuvre, including the magnificent Sacred Hunger, Morality Play and Land of Marvels. The Quality of Mercy, his last novel, is in the second rank of his works, but even these are brilliant (including Pascali's Island and The Song of the Kings). It's very nicely plotted - a page-turner. But there are bigger themes too: the role of women, industrialization, and the abolition of slavery. Unsworth's ...more
Feb 07, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
In this continuation of the story started with Sacred Hunger, Unsworth explores other topics and social issues in depth. A chance for redemption is always there for those wise enough to choose it. Excellent reading.
Dec 08, 2014 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
High on my last of favorite books I read this year. I learned a lot about England and the slave trade. child labor (7 year olds in the coal mines) and law. I thought the characters were mostly believable and representative of the time.
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Barry Unsworth was born in 1930 in a mining village in Durham, and he attended Stockton-on-Tees Grammar School and Manchester University, B.A., 1951.

From 1951-53, in the British Army, Royal Corps of Signals, he served and became second lieutenant.

A teacher and a novelist, Unsworth worked as a lecturer in English at Norwood Technical College, London, at University of Athens for the British Council
More about Barry Unsworth...

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Sacred Hunger (2 books)
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