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The Polished Hoe

3.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,315 Ratings  ·  112 Reviews
Bimshire, 1952. The sergeant of the island's police force is called to hear a murderous confession. Layers of disturbing history unfold as Mary-Mathilda, fair-skinned mistress of plantation manager Mr. Bellfeels, weaves her intimate story of passion, motherhood and loss, culminating in a gruesome revenge.
Paperback, 462 pages
Published March 2004 by Thomas Allen Publishers (first published 2002)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Tracy Salguero
Nov 13, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
If you ever want to fall asleep fast READ THIS BOOK! Worst book i've ever read this year. The history of Brimshaw was interesting but it wasn't captivating enough to want to speed through the book. I just kept wondering if 1 of 2 things were going to happen...was she gonna do it or was she gonna tell him? It was painful to get to the end, but I made it...thankfully.
Shirley Schwartz
Feb 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: prize-winners
Clarke's book is a difficult one to read and is certainly not for those looking for a quick escape with a happy ending. The action of the story takes place over a single night, but it covers years of the life on a small West Indian island that had it's beginnings in slavery. Mary-G is a black woman born to as a fourth generation slave on this island. Like her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother before her she worked in the fields for a white overseer on a sugar cane plantation. She also fo ...more
Jan 08, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I will always finish a book, not matter what. This book though was tough to finish, mainly because it is is written in old slave dialect. Ugh!
May 27, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Okay, I don't do this very often but....I am not finishing this book. I got about halfway through and I CAN'T GO ON!! This book won an award so I pushed through hoping that it would get better but I just can't go any further. Story line is WAY too slow and everything is described in too much detail. Time line also jumps all over the place. Just can't seem to get into the story line or even the characters for that matter. Sorry Autin Clarke! Can't recommend this book.
Andrew Clauder
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Austin Clarke presents a captivating tale of murder, mystery, and tyranny. The mistress of Mr. Bellfeels, a powerful landowner in the country of Bimshire, known commonly as Barbados, calls the local police to confess a crime. In her confession, she tells a story of life, love, and subjugation as the unfortunate lover of a sickening man, but no one could be prepared for the horrible truths she unveils.
The novel itself is a difficult read, with current speaker and point of view often becoming ve
Sep 11, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up
I really wanted to like it. Parts I did like but I found I just couldn't take the repetitive reminiscing and language. I listened to it and the performance was great, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to read it if it was written in the vernacular. I quit on disc 5.
Wendy T
I didn't care for this book at all. I'm surprised I even finished the book.
Dec 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(view spoiler) ...more
Feb 06, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish

Unfortunately I didn't finish this book. After I started I checked reviews on goodreads to see what others thought as I was a little perplexed as to how it was progressing. I read that many people had given up and I don't know how much this influenced me, but I gave it a good go and read nearly 200 pages, before thinking that I would rather be reading something else.

Having said that I think it is beautifully written and I loved the nuance of dialect used. For example, '...approaching the age of
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
First, I'll start with the good.
I listened to the audio of this book. The narration was wonderful. I loved the accent, the emphasis and the pacing of the reading. It added a dimension and texture to the story.
I enjoyed the history of Bimshire (Barbados). This book covers a gamut of historical issues: slavery, class distinctions, opportunities (or not) of the people, climate. In here is world of many levels, people subdued & terrified, people empowered by wealth; there's a subtlety of the ma
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Sergeant and Mary Gertrude Matilda have known each other since childhood, and they have always been in love. They have lived separate lives, however: she with her son and her big house and all the learning she's been able to garner, he with his friends and his job and his lovers. She's watched him all these years. He's been too shy.

He arrives in the evening, ready to take her statement, and the two talk until morning. They talk of their lives, of their histories, of their longings, of the hi
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had this book on my book shelf for at least 4 years before I read it. I had read Austin Clarke before and loved his writing style - and just knew this was a book I wanted to read. But you need time to read this book - and you need to be patient, oh so patient to listen to the side stories, knowing the truth was coming.

I have read the book twice now - the first time too fast because I so wanted to know what the answer was to the question posed - and you wait right to the very, very end for that
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"When Mary-Mathilda, one of the most respected women of the island of Bimshire (also known as Barbados) calls the police to confess to a crime, the result is a shattering all-night vigil that brings together elements of the island's African past and the tragic legacy of colonialism in one epic sweep.

Set in the West Indies in the period following World War II, The Polished Hoe -- an Essence bestseller and a Washington Post Book World Most Worthy Book of 2003 -- unravels over the course of
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Unfortunately, I couldn't finish this book. I was drawn in quickly by the well developed characters and the author's rich description but often the details went on and on. The plot is intriguing and I hate that I couldn't find out how it ended but the prattling descriptions and on-going back story didn't seem relevant after a point. And the format of 3 sections rather then many chapters, added to the torture. I couldn't find a breaking point to stop and give myself a break from the rambling of a ...more
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written. An intriguing look into another country, another culture, another time. Gentle stories of everyday threaded through with major events, and a history of race relations in one West Indian island.

Recommended for long, leisurely reads (like on a trans - continental train) as this requires some effort to get to the end. About half way through I started to find some of the stories repetitive, and to wonder if the plot would ever reach a final point or conclusion. I actually took a
Luz  C. Johnson
Jul 05, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of Mary Gertrude Mathilda. From beginning to end, the novel is a relentless dialogue between Mary and a Sargent. The dialogue revolves on the Sargent taking Mary's statement over a murder. The so called statement is 462 pages long. The greatest downfall of the novel was precisely this long, endless dialogue full of unnecessary verbosity.
New, aspiring writers are frequently told to show instead of telling, which is a great technique of engaging the reader into the story. One of
Rita Macdonnell
Apr 01, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
||: a long, slow sea of undulating language, long, long sentences, smooth and rhythmic, unravel meaning in slow, low waves, advancing and receding, revealing hints of story, nuances on insight, in sudden flashes, startling rolling crashes, just as quickly quiet ended, hidden from us, smothering, soothing, a soft lullaby, rocking lulling, interrupted, punctuated by brief bursts, quick staccato punches against the undulating tedium until a gradual crescendo signals a coming, perhaps a revelation, ...more
Mar 11, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very difficult book to read. But I never give up and I always finish a book no matter what. The subject matter sounds interesting, Mary-Mathilda, a slave/servant woman in Barbados calls the police to confess to an earth-shattering crime...
Except, the confession occurs over the course of one evening and the story and history of why the crime may have been committed all has to be told first. The story and history of the island was interesting, but it just seemed like some of the history
Fred Anderson
Absolutely stupendous! Austin Clarke and I have been friends for over thirty years and corresponded throughout the writing of the novel. I just recently visited his hometown of Barbados and the setting of the novel. Mary-Mathilda tells of murder both personal and political; hers is the murder of children; slavery and the murder of the middle passage; of African children; of past memories and dreams deferred; of ghosts and visions of a post-colonial Barbados/West Indies.
A story of loyalties and b
Aug 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You know who did it. Yet, the more you read, the circumstances around the murder become the mystery. You ask for the motive. There were plenty of those. Then, you ask the 'whys' for the location, the weapon, the opportunity, the utter lack of remorse. The culprit is your victim and your hero. You sympathize with both the officer and the lady. You cheer the murderer who you cannot see as a criminal. And you walk away wondering the most important 'why' of them all: Why do I love this book so much?
Lisa Forsen
Oct 02, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Could not get through this book. This was our book club pick for the month and it sounded familiar to me...when I picked up my copy, I remembered having taken out as a new release, and not getting through it then. The premise of the story is good, however the dialect is difficult to read and the story seems to repeat more than necessary - I had set it aside and then a fellow book clubber, who had muddled through it, suggested I read from page 342 on - so I did. The 150 pages I skipped didn’t see ...more
Melissa Andrews
I listened to this book as an audiobook but I couldn't finish it. It just tool too long to get to the main part. I read other Goodreads reviews and it seemed as though everyone felt that it was worth wading through all the memory lane stuff at the beginning to get to the meat of the story, but I kept going through CD after CD and nothing. Plus, the characters won't really holding my interest. So I renewed it once, but when it came due again, I returned it to the library. Maybe if I try it again ...more
Tanya Patrice
Feb 27, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book started out promising, but about 1/4 of the way into the book, it becomes dull and boring. It no longer becomes a story of murder, but instead starts detailing the history of the island of Bimshire, the history of slavery & racism in the island, in America & in Europe. That's a lot to tackle for one book and I became totally lost - what direction was the author heading? I'll be honest, I skimmed over the pages of the 2nd half - I tried to keep up but got lost in boredom.
This novel about a harsh life on a Caribbean plantation seems to divide its readers into two camps: love it or hate it. I am definitely in the love it camp. I loved everything about it despite the difficult content: the poetic language, the wonderful story-telling, the rich history, the vivid discourse between Mathilda and Percy, and the slow unveiling towards its precipitous ending.
Oct 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, literature
The language is what I remember from this book. The most startling revelations coming to us in a dialect most earthy, real, and expressive. The cover art was the first thing that brought this exceptional voice to my attention, but it was not long before I realized this was Literature writ large. I look forward to his latest exploration of race and language.
Nov 11, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh. This book drove me crazy, the writing style, the story line, etc. Too slow, meandering all over the place, not a book to try reading on the train in the morning. My conclusion, I found it hard to connect with any of the characters, and I found myself skimming through pages because I couldn't be bothered to actually read an entire page through. How did this novel win a prize??
Oct 08, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
The downside of e-reading is that, when you buy a book that is a total yawn-fest, you can't pass it on to a friend who might actually enjoy it. I've read about 30% of this and I can't go on. Maybe I'll give it another try in a couple of months.
Mar 08, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The read was tedious....did not enjoy the writing style..nor the storyline.
There were no redeeming characters in my opinion. I did not like not having any idea just lead to the next throughout the entire book.
I will not recommend this book.
Tracey Joseph
this book was slow-going. .. sometimes difficult to follow the storyline. but it was ok
Jul 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Though this is fiction, you need to read it as you would a history. Don't rush the plot. Soak up the facts, and the legacy of colonialism.
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Austin Ardinel Chesterfield Clarke was a Canadian novelist, essayist and short story writer who lives in Toronto, Ontario. He has been called "Canada's first multicultural writer".

Clarke had his early education in Barbados and taught at a rural school for three years. In 1955 he moved to Canada to attend the University of Toronto but after two years turned his hand to journalism and broadcasting.
More about Austin Clarke...

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