Book Reviews From the Vault: The Polished Hoe

This review of The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke was one of the quickest that I have ever written. Since I first posted this review, I found out that it has become a play. Stay tuned for a review of that in the future!

For all of the books that I have read in my lifetime, there are only TWO books that I did not finish. One of those books was The Polished Hoe. I will explain why I was not able to read it completely.

Written by Barbados-born Austin Clarke, The Polished Hoe is about Mary-Mathilda -a black woman who has worked on a Barbados plantation in a variety of positions including mistress to its powerful manager. It takes place over one day, in which she confesses a crime committed against the manager to the constable and sergeant on the island.

Let’s start off with the good. The book offers interesting commentary on the collective experience of the slavery-characterized society in the Barbados, especially about the role of women in said society. In one passage, the main character explains this to the sergeant:

“It was common practice on plantations in Bimshire [Barbados] for a Plantation Manager to breed any woman he rested his two eyes on…. And so it was with me. And with Ma. And with Ma’s mother, until we get far-far-far back, get-back on the ships leaving Africa, sailing on the high seas, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, trying to reach Amurca, …. And they decide to jump overboard [to avoid that fate], and face the broiling green waves of the Deep; and God; taking suicides, which was better” (442-443).

I find it fascinating to read about the past and to see how both real and fictionalized individuals deal with the problems of their times.

Even though the book possesses an interesting premise, it is a slog to get through. Even a snail could move faster than this. It doesn’t help that it is over 450 pages! In the midst of passages discussing Mary-Mathilda’s life an enslaved woman on the plantation, it repeats itself about almost every detail. Also, for some reason, the book likes to have its male characters picture the female ones naked every now and then. I am not sure why. Additionally, the main character is obsessed with her garden hoe – the title object – even to the point of sleeping with it. What a way to shove the item’s significance down our throats! And if you are wondering, yes, it plays a huge role in the crime that she committed. Finally, the best (used ironically) part is that the book itself is even not divided into chapters. In fact, it is divided into THREE PARTS! Someone should have edited it prior to publishing it.

The book is a bestseller in Canada. It won many awards like the Giller Prize, which is a literary award given to Canadian authors (Clarke resides in Canada). In other words, there are people who have enough patience to get through it. Clearly, I am not one of them, but that doesn’t mean I have given up on it. The plot alone is compelling to explore, but it is certainly not a story that one reads before going to bed although it is great if you want to fall asleep quickly. In conclusion, this is why I could not finish The Polished Hoe.

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Published by emilymalek

I work at a public library southeast Michigan, and I facilitate two book clubs there. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, play trivia and crossword puzzles, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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