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Sugar and Rum: A Novel (Norton Paperback Fiction) Paperback – January 23, 2013

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Product Details

  • Series: Norton Paperback Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st Edition(PB) edition (January 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393318907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393318906
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,855,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The central situation--an aging, slightly dotty, blocked novelist going to seed amid the blight of late-Thatcher Liverpool--sounds irredeemably depressing, and yet by some narrative miracle Barry Unsworth makes Sugar and Rum a work of spirited playfulness, human sympathy, and quicksilver imagination. Clive Benson, hopelessly stuck in his historical novel about the horrors of Liverpool's slave trade, has taken to offering private instruction to a ragtag group of would-be writers he calls "the fictioneers." Prowling the shattered city streets in search of "signs, portents, auguries," Benson witnesses a suicide--a flashing leap from a high building--and soon after runs across an old wreck of an army buddy from World War II.

These encounters precipitate a crisis: Benson becomes obsessed with a traumatic wartime episode in which he inadvertently led a friend to his death, and then, stumbling from fantasy to action, he hatches a scheme to exact revenge on the arrogant second lieutenant they served under. As engrossingly bizarre as it is, plot in Sugar and Rum is secondary to narrative warp and woof--metaphor, allusion, surreal juxtapositions. A hypnotist neighbor appears to offer advice on getting rid of the owl that has invaded Benson's flat; a magazine featuring Dali and Verdi leads to the detested second lieutenant; the terrible legacy of the slave trade shadows every aspect of contemporary Liverpool.

Sugar and Rum is at once an inflamed political novel of class and race warfare, a satire of current social malaise, a portrait of the artist as a damaged but still plucky old man, a meditation on the meanings of performance, and a ripping good read. It is also an amusingly distorted autobiography, since Unsworth in real life succeeded in writing the slave-trade novel that defeats his alter ego--Sacred Hunger, which won the Booker Prize. It's quite a juggling act, but Unsworth proves himself more than equal to the task. --David Laskin

From Publishers Weekly

Signs of the powerful writing Unsworth later exhibited in his Booker Prize-winning Sacred Hunger distinguish this otherwise unfocused novel published in England in 1988 and released here for the first time. On one level a stinging diatribe against the "inhuman system" of Thatcher's conservative policies, the narrative also deals with such themes as unresolved guilt, Britain's lucrative participation in the slave trade, and the tools of a writer's craft. Suffering from writer's block, 63-year-old historical novelist Clive Benson is unable to proceed with a new work set in Liverpool during the late 1700s, the heyday of the Atlantic slave traders. Alone since his wife left him, Benson has sunk deep into depression and alcoholism; he is so emotionally dislocated that he talks compulsively to strangers on park benches. To make ends meet, he has set himself up as a literary consultant, but his clients are largely untalented and impervious to advice. Examples of their execrable jottings are the one light note in a text otherwise dominated by dark images: a suicide in the book's opening pages, Benson's memories of the Anzio campaign during WW II, and the death of his best friend in ambush, an event for which Benson holds himself responsible. When he runs across another veteran of that conflict, who in turn leads him to the erstwhile platoon commander, now a fat cat enjoying a rich lifestyle, a series of coincidences and violent acts sweep the novel to a fiery if not entirely credible conclusion. Though some of the scenes in Liverpool's grim slums have a cinematic urgency, analogies between the 18th-century slavers and contemporary Thatcherite opportunists are strained. The story ends on an ironic note: Benson's emancipation from anomie is accomplished with the aid of some of his writing clientsAwhom he calls "fictioneers"Aan alliance of creative energy and social action that Unsworth seems to be calling for.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on May 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
"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.
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By D. P. Birkett on July 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
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.
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By private on August 3, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good product and service
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Roxanna M. Cain on March 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
this a very good physcological novel. benson, the main character is sad but also quite funny, and his adventures carry you though efforlessly. crisp prose.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
I just stopped, bored. Maybe there is something here to grab someone, but not this total fan of Unsworth's other work. I say, read the book he was trying to write when I wrote this one. Sacred Hunger towers over this like Churchill over John Major
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