Barry Unsworth has prepared some interesting specimens of eighteenth-century humanity in The Quality of Mercy
. He takes characters from wildly different social strata - a slave-dealing capitalist, an abolitionist lawyer, a light-starved coal miner, a fiddler escaped from prison - and puts them under a microscope to expose the subtle workings of their minds and morals. Under such close scrutiny, nothing is black-and-white.
Erasmus Kemp, who has inherited the family slave and sugar business, is now scheming over the money to be made in coal. Kemp has been involved in gruesome dealings, many of which make up the action in Unsworth's 1992 Booker Prize-winning novel, Sacred Hunger
. There is a nagging sense in The Quality of Mercy
that all the strongest action and blackest deeds have taken place in the past - instead of adventure on the high seas, we...
Beyond the Book
What makes a writer turn to historical fiction? The task of creating a fictional world is hard enough, so why throw in the additional labor of intensive research and the mental calisthenics of imagining another time? Some of the genre's biggest names respond...
Before his death in June 2012, Barry Unsworth's literary imagination covered a broad territory in both time and space, from fourteenth-century England (Morality Play
), to the end of the Ottoman Empire (Pascali's Island
), to ancient Greece (The Songs of the Kings
) and eighteenth-century England (The Quality of...