Summary and book reviews of The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke

The Polished Hoe

by Austin Clarke

The Polished Hoe
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2003, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2004, 480 pages

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Book Summary

Set in the period following World War II, The Polished Hoe unravels over the course of twenty-four hours but spans the lifetime of one woman and the collective experience of a society characterized by slavery.

When Mary-Mathilda, one of the most respected women on the colonized island of Bimshire (also known as Barbados), calls the police to confess to a crime, the result is a shattering all-night vigil. She claims the crime is against Mr. Belfeels, the powerful manager of the sugar plantation that dominates the villagers' lives and for whom she has worked for more than thirty years as a field laborer, kitchen help, and maid. She was also Mr. Belfeels's mistress, kept in good financial status in the Great House of the plantation, and the mother of his only son, Wilberforce, a successful doctor, who after living abroad returns to the island.

Set in the period following World War II, The Polished Hoe unravels over the course of twenty-four hours but spans the lifetime of one woman and the collective experience of a society characterized by slavery. Infused with Joycean overtones, this remarkable novel -- winner of the 2002 Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize Best Book Award, Canada and Caribbean region; and a bestseller in Canada -- evokes the power of memory and the indomitable strength of the human spirit.

Excerpt
The Polished Hoe

"MY NAME IS MARY. People in this Village call me Mary-Mathilda. Or, Tilda, for short. To my mother I was Mary-girl. My names I am christen with are Mary Gertrude Mathilda, but I don't use Gertrude, because my maid has the same name. My surname that people 'bout-here uses, is either Paul, or Bellfeels, depending who you speak to. . . "

"Everybody in Flagstaff Village knows you as Miss Bellfeels, ma'am," the Constable says. "And they respects you."

"Nevertheless, Bellfeels is not the name I want attach to this Statement that I giving you. . . "

"I will write-down that, ma'am, as you tell it to me. But. .

"This Sunday evening," she says, interrupting him, "a little earlier, round seven o'clock, I walked outta here, taking the track through the valley; past the two stables converted into a cottage; past the sheep pens and the goat pens, and fowl coops; and through the grove of fruit trees until I came to the Front-Road, walking between two fields of ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

.... a rambling, plotless tale from Clarke, a veteran West Indian writer/academic/diplomat.....We are left with a memorable landscape of oppression but a problematic central figure.

Publishers Weekly

[An] eloquent, richly detailed novel....unfolds through brilliantly written dialogue, a rich, dancing patois that fills out the dimensions of the island's painful history and its complex caste system.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

Readers will need some patience with the first few pages, but that soon turns into complete absorption in this digressive but endlessly fascinating, even charming monologue delivered by one Mary-Mathilda, an old woman living on a big plantation on a West Indian island....A very creatively executed novel.

Library Journal - Faye A. Chadwell

Barbados-born Clarke's ninth novel, which earned him the 2002 Giller Prize (Canada's premier fiction prize) and the 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize, is a tragic, complex story of postcolonial Barbadian life following World War II. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

Nadia

This book was excellent. To truly enjoy this novel one must sit back and place him/herself as though he or she was also sitting in the room as this woman tells her story. Though there may be a few places that are not geographically correct, the ...   Read More

Joy

I loved this book. It is beautifully written, and the story is enthralling. It strays a lot from the main plot, though, so it should be read with patience - devour every word.

- Joy, 16

noone

The book was good. I really enjoyed reading it. I wish iI could meet Clarke himself. I thought the end was interesting when she <<edited for plot spoiler content>>. You need patientce to read the book.

Ellis

Ah... Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston... my favorite book.

I listened to a review of The Polished Hoe on CBC radio. A Kingston book club (a group of young, apparently well-educated people) was reviewing it, and gave it a miserable...   Read More

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