Madeline's Reviews > The Salt Roads

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
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Feb 24, 10

bookshelves: 2010, historical-fiction, queer, women, sff, race, francophilia, mythology, colonialism, over-rated, novels
Read from February 20 to 24, 2010 — I own a copy

1. The Salt Roads is SO FRUSTRATING. Because there were a couple things I really loved about it and one or two things I hated with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. And those things seemed more significant to the book than the things I liked.

2. First of all, I love the idea of the novel. It's a powerful and layered concept for a book. There are so many angles to examine, and so many resources to mine, that the potential is enormous. It could have been remarkably affecting. It is certainly an engaging book, although I almost feel that by using so many first-person viewpoints, Hopkinson is, um, cheating. Or anyway . . . she's covering all her bases, without having to work very hard at it.

3. I also really loved how flexible sexuality is. That makes a kind of sense, because the book takes place before modern constructions of sexuality (which I think are loosening, but only because we have more names for things), but how often does historical fiction care about that? Not often enough. But ambiguity is present here, in spades. So that is definitely a point in the book's favor.

4. Okay, but now I get to talk about the things I hated. Primarily, I hated the way The Salt Roads was written. LOATHED it. On reflection, the style of the book is tied very closely to the first-person narration, so the sentences are choppy and conversational. Unfortunately, this makes them seem disingenuous - although you feel very close (physically, not emotionally) to the characters, it's difficult to connect with them. I'm tempted to call the style stream-of-consciousness, except I like stream-of-consciousness, at least in its modernist incarnation . . . this is post-modern, but usually I quite like that too. Anyway, here is a passage - picked at random - that may help indicate why I find the style wearing (although this is a third person interlude, actually):
Patrice sighed. They were near his cabin. He kept walking, kept thinking. He heard Makandal's soft goodbye, and out of his eye saw the three-and-a-half-legged hound running off to where Couva would be twisted painfully into the stocks, her body cramping and twitching. You gods, let Makandal's plan work. Let the Ginen cease suffering.


5. Another problem with the book is that it is physical without being sensual at all. The sex scenes are fairly graphic, but they are barely interesting (or, at least, the sex isn't; some of the politics are). Hopkinson is very good at conveying physical discomfort, but pleasure is not within her capabilities. Given the role destructive pleasure plays in at least one story line (Jeanne Duval and Baudelaire), I like it when books have a definite sense of physicality, and that is certainly a strength of The Salt Roads.

5a. But, um, I do think a passage from The Golden Notebook is relevant:
So all that is a failure too. The blue notebook, which I had expected to be the most truthful of the notebooks, is worse than any of them. I expected a terse record of facts to present some sort of a pattern when I read it over, but this sort of record is as false as the account of what happened on 15th September, 1954, which I read now embarrassed because of its emotionalism and because of its assumption that if I wrote ‘at nine-thirty I went to the lavatory to shit and at two to pee and at four I sweated’, this would be more real than if I simply wrote what I thought. And yet I still don’t understand why. Because although in life things like going to the lavatory or changing a tampon when one has one’s period are dealt with on an almost unconscious level, I can recall every detail of a day two years ago because I remember that Molly had blood on her skirt and I had to warn her to go upstairs and change before her son came in.

Basically, it feels a little like the physical detail (which in TSR is purely factual, and not atmospheric) is used a bit like a crutch.

6. Much like the book in general, I wanted to love the characters and ended up disliking most of them. Thais comes too late in the book to be integrated with the other stories - she feels tacked on, although I love the concept. Also, she is rather stupid, and that's off-putting. Mer is conceptually interesting, and makes fascinating choices, but mostly two-dimensional. I think Jeanne Duval is the most successful, the most rounded character and probably the only dynamic one. The parts of the novel from Ezili's perspective are truly bad.

7. If I hadn't wanted to like this book so much, I would have liked it more. Sorry, The Salt Roads.
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Reading Progress

02/20/2010 page 25
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message 1: by Chelsey (new)

Chelsey Pennyamon I've read Brown Girl in the Ring by her, which is set in the near and crappy future (yay dystopia!). I was excited because Octavia Butler raved about her, and her ideas *are* great, but her writing style was almost fanfic quality (not *horrible*, but kinda cheesy and earnest?) and she used really trite symbolism (like a thorny rose representing a past bad-boy lover) and what's worse, she HIT THE READER OVER THE HEAD with her trite symbolism (she wrote something like, "So-and-so knew the prettiest roses had the sharpest thorns".) Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh. Eventually I had to just put it down, but I could never bring myself to pick it back up.


Madeline I would legit rather read fanfic. At least the sex would be sexy. (You are so right about "cheesy and earnest" - too much sincerity can break a book.)

But, yeah, I didn't love The New Moon's Arms but I at least enjoyed it. I don't understand why everyone goes crazy over her work, especially someone as talented as Octavia Butler. Great ideas only go so far! But I'm still hoping to track down So Long Been Dreaming since she only edited that. :p


Taushia Griswold I too looked into her because of Octavia Butler &... sigh. I started reading the salt roads about five years ago - I am still not close to being finished. I usually read a book in two days tops.


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