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Paperback Sugar and Rum Book

ISBN: 0393318907

ISBN13: 9780393318906

Sugar and Rum

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

Unable to work on his novel about Liverpool's slave trade, Benson is teaching creative writing and wandering the city. The pupils who bring him their fantasies are a sad, dispossessed group with varying degrees of literary talent. Caught up in a series of bizarre events, Benson nevertheless finds his own imagination sparked by an encounter with two old army colleagues: Thompson, down-and-out and homeless; and Slater, a fabulously wealthy entrepreneur...

Customer Reviews

2 ratings

Unblended mixture

It contains a lot of good ingredients which don't quite go together. The SPOV narrator, Benson, is a WWII veteran who is in Liverpool to work on a book about that city's connection with the slave trade. He suffers writer's block and is making ends meet by giving lesson in creative writing, but a plot summary doesn't cover all of what goes on. There's a lot about how rundown Liverpool became in the 1980's under Thatcher, a lot about the slave trade, and a lot about writing. Interspersed uneasily are flashbacks of action at Anzio in WWII. Each separate theme is good but I had the impression of a writer with a notebook full of essays and stories on different subjects cobbling them togather to make a novel. There are some wonderful characters, but an important one, Slater, the villain, a cowardly officer who became a prosperous businessman is unconvincing. Benson plots revenge on Slater for multiple vaguely specified misdeeds and this leads to an unlikely climactic scene of violence tacked on at the end. I understand this is not the best Unsworth, so I'll be trying some more of him.

How to deal with writer's block

"Sugar and Rum" is my first encounter with Barry Unsworth's work, and it's a nice surprise. It is tightly plotted and features a wide assortment of interesting and eccentric characters, but it is also somewhat dissonant and disturbing in the way it makes a crude, if well-meaning, statement about economic reform. Clive Benson is a 63-year-old author who has had a semi-successful career writing historical novels, but now, stuck with writer's block while working on a novel about the Liverpool slave trade, makes money as a literary consultant for a group of aspiring writers he calls the "Fictioneers." His students include a grammatically challenged science fiction enthusiast, a rebellious biker girl writing lurid poetry, a quiet young man struggling to find a starting point for his autobiographical novel, and a woman writing a campy period romance. Always looking for symbols in mundane events, Benson collects tabloid photographs and articles and wanders the streets of Liverpool striking up conversations with strangers. One person he comes across is an old World War II army buddy named Thompson, now a homeless bum, who sparks in Benson a memory of a personal tragedy in his past. Seeking answers about this incident, Benson tracks down his former platoon commander, Slater, who now is a wealthy financier married to a movie star and living in a country manor that happens to have been built by one of the Liverpool slave traders. Benson finds that Slater is essentially the same kind of domineering windbag he was in the army, nationalistically proud of England's history and aristocracy.One of Benson's friends, a liberal, anti-Thatcher, activistic history professor named Alma Corrigan, inspires him to launch a juvenile revenge scheme against Slater, involving some of his impressionable and impulsive Fictioneers. The absurd denouement, however, is unsatisfactory for a novel like this that is attempting to make a serious political statement. The result of Benson's threadbare scheme does not change anything about British society or politics, does not strengthen the statement about economic reform that was already made clear throughout the novel, and is not even funny if that was its intention. The novel does not make it clear why a man of Benson's age, maturity, and relatively mild disposition would want to put such a plan into action; maybe his problem is that he can't tell where fiction stops and reality begins. Despite the incongruous ending, I must admit that reading this novel was a pleasure because of Unsworth's richly descriptive prose and characterization. Unsworth has a keen sense for creating extraordinary characters with comical but believable idiosyncracies. The chauffeur who claims to be John Lennon's former bodyguard, the romance writer who indignantly refuses to have her stuffy characters impaled on spikes, the Verdi-loving Mrs. Slater who is in a constant alchoholic haze, and Rathbone the performing hypnotist are some of the best
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