Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #6: Property January 27, 2010

This book showed up in my mailbox yesterday.  I finished it last night.  It pretty much derailed my reading of Megan Chance’s Susannah Morrow.


Property by Valerie Martin

Vintage, 2004

Courtesy of

From Booklist

Set in Louisiana in 1828, Martin’s latest novel depicts the psychologically charged relationship between a wealthy white woman and the slave she detests. Manon Gaudet is bored and dissatisfied with her stifling marriage to a man she loathes. She takes much of her resentment out on her slave, Sarah, who is her husband’s unwilling mistress and the mother of his only two children. Manon hates the children, especially the eldest, Walter, who is allowed to run wild on their estate. Her husband (who is never given a name) tries to reach out to Manon, but she rejects his attempts with disdain and condescension. The claustrophobic estate only makes Manon resent her life more, and she is grateful when she is unable to conceive a child. When a group of runaway slaves descends upon Manon’s home, their attack brings the simmering tensions between Manon and Sarah to a head, resulting in a dramatic confrontation that only serves to heighten Manon’s obsession with subjugating Sarah. The book is taut and atmospheric and effectively chronicles an obsessive fixation. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Martin’s book is not for those looking for a light read.  Don’t let the length and straightforward narration fool you.

Strengths: Martin crafted a grotesquely bleak story–I was completely riveted and repelled, and completely unable to stop reading.  Manon is bitter and tormented by her own decisions as well as her husband’s transgressions.  Her despair is vividly portrayed, and her hatred for Sarah, her husband’s unwilling slave mistress, is so blatant it fairly screams.  It’s a reminder to me that even truly horrible plot events make for an excellent narrative.

Potential Flaws: The direction of the plot is, for those familiar with the history, perhaps a bit predictable.  We sense exactly where this is going to end.  This did not bother me, but for those who like the unexpected, it may be a bit disappointing.

My Rating:

Definitely worth the time–bleak yet skillfully written.