Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Color Purple - Alice Walker

You know those books that are sat on your bookshelf because you feel you should read them?  Maybe they even include books that you tried to read some time ago but gave up on.  I have plenty of books like that.  Books that friends read at school, books that seem to appear as 'must reads' and so on.  And, very occasionally, I do actually read them.

The Color Purple first appeared on my radar in GCSE English lessons, with a few of my classmates selecting it for their wider reading coursework.  All I really remember of their discussions was the assurance that the first page was the worst.  Not that it really meant a great deal at the time.  When I started trying to read it a few years back I was glad of that comment, but even still I did not manage to persevere for long.  This year, however, it appeared on the World Book Day Writes of Passage list and I had one of those 'now or never' moments that made me determined.

The book is set in the American South between the wars and tells the story of a girl (later woman) named Celie.  Her story is told in letter form, as diary extracts that she writes to God.  This instantly brings a personal connection and is a very powerful way to approach some of the topics covered.  But it also brings the reason that I initially struggled reading.  The letters are written as Celie would write them and so contain a lot of dialect and also the phrases of someone who is simply not used to writing.  Once you get used to the style it's fine, but you do need to give it some time (preferably when you're not completely exhausted if possible).

So that first page that was so controversial in my English class?  It describes the first time that she is raped.  Other occurences cover the emotional impact, arguably making the descriptions fair worse, but the first is certainly as graphic as it gets.  The theme of abuse in relationships is widely explored in its different forms.  It's easy to see why it fell into the World Book Day's category of 'books that will make you cry'.  Other themes are covered as well, notably racism - particularly in its more 'casual' forms.  Sexuality also makes an appearance (definitely not the first book I've read this year with lesbian references). In fact, if I tried to list all the social, emotional and moral topics that feature I would struggle to finish this post today.

It's somewhat of an unusual read for me in that it doesn't have an obvious genre.  It's not fantasy, crime, or any of my typical choices.  It's 'just' a book.  But some books are well regarded for a reason.  Give this one a go, and stick with it if you struggle to get into the writing syle.  It might make you cry, but it might just also give you hope.

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