Robert Strandquist's Reviews > The Quality of Mercy

The Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth
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May 25, 12

bookshelves: while-in-belgium
Read in May, 2012

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 revelled in the scenes of Sullivan's vagabond journey from Florida to Durham. His cavalier lifestyle brought him all sorts of fortunes and misfortunes, but he was ultimately rewarded for loyalty. Unsworth sets up several virtues as shining paths to life's less tangible but more rewarding goals. Most of all, Unsworth uses historical events, court rulings, persons, etc. as the bases for demonstrating that justice continues to prevail. I thought the most powerful scenes were in Thorpe, the coal-mining village near Durham. He took us down in the pits several times. Here we tasted, smelled and touched the shining rock and felt the unyielding weight of the skidding sleds that broke the miners' backs to make others rich. In these scenes, the written dialogue was colloquial and revealed the rustic characters' naive wisdom borne from a combination of hard work and love of nature. The scene in the small shed between the manipulating banker, Kemp and local miner Borton, is very strong. I will look for Unsworth's "Sacred Hunger," his Booker winner to read next.
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