Brian's Reviews > The Quality of Mercy: A Novel

The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth
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's review
Feb 26, 2012

really liked it
Read from February 15 to 24, 2012

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 effectively conveys the inherent corrupting influence that it has on those who profited from it.

Additionally, it illuminates the life of a coal miner in the north of England and how difficult, dangerous, and essentially stultifying such an existence was. Despite these oppressive subjects, the book remains entertaining and engaging due to the strength of the primary, as well as the secondary, characters.

One reservation I had going into it was that some reviewers felt that the budding romance between Jane Ashton and Erasmus Kemp somehow softened the villainy that Kemp represented so effectively in Sacred Hunger. Not that he was ever particularly evil, but his single-minded efforts for revenge and his inability to manifest any empathy toward another person made him a singular antagonist. Sort of a more complex and realistic Javert, from Les Miserable. However, I didn't find their relationship instrusive or unrealistic, and I accepted his growth, slight as it really is, as within the realm of possibility.

Highly recommended.
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