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The Quality of Mercy: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 10, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese (January 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780385534772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385534772
  • ASIN: 0385534779
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Highly regarded historical novelist Unsworth’s new novel is the long-awaited sequel to his Booker Prize–winning Sacred Hunger (1992). In that novel, we saw the sailors of a slave ship bound for the New World mutiny when some of the crew tossed live humans overboard, and the mutineers took refuge in Florida, where they lived for many years until they were tracked down by the ship owner’s son and were brought to England for trial. The year now is 1767, and Unsworth, true to form, shows appreciation for the mind-sets and physical features of life in the past but, at the same time, supports his interest in commonly held societal ideas of the time as well as new ones surfacing in the law. Thematically, his new novel is about the downtrodden versus those in positions of overlordship; specifically, he draws our interest to a London courtroom as the mutineers from the previous novel are brought to trial, and, with ingenuity, he connects that situation to coal-mine activity in the north of England as emerging ideas of property and personal rights are played out in that dark, brutal world. The way this talented author elaborates the plot will ensure that readers will be eager to follow its challenging course. --Brad Hooper


“Unsworth is one of the best historical novelists on either side of the Atlantic, and in both Sacred Hunger and The Quality of Mercy his vast knowledge of 18th-century social and material conditions creates a rich and strange rendering of daily life that’s utterly persuasive.”
The New York Times Book Review

"Told with bite and freshness. Unsworth, one of the most ingenious and varied of today’s British writers, makes his scenes not just vivid but microscopically vivid - we see not only their visible life but the invisible life that pulsates beneath. But what may be more remarkable is the creative subversion he works in his characters. . . . Unsworth gives his figures glittering definition, and then leaves them open and undefined."
—Richard Eder, The Boston Globe

“Unsworth is one of the greatest living historical novelists, and this is what he does best: He entices us back into a past gloriously appointed with archival detail and moral complexity. . . . [The Quality of Mercy] is another engaging demonstration of the talent that’s made Unsworth one of the very few writers to appear on the Booker shortlist three times. His sentences recall the sharp detail, moral sensitivity and ready wit of Charles Dickens. But his sense of the lumbering, uneven gait of social progress is more sophisticated, more tempered, one might say, by history.”
The Washington Post

"Deeply moving. . . . Unsworth brings his characters together with authority and grace. As with all of his historical novels, he conveys the sights, sounds and smells of life in another century without the slightest hint of pedantry."
The Wall Street Journal

"Instantly compelling and impeccably written. . . . Line by line, Unsworth is a vigorous and precise writer."
Los Angeles Times

"Reading Barry Unsworth, one immediately feel secure in the hands of an experienced pro, a master scribe who knows his way through a story like a seasoned navigator sailing treacherous but familiar seas. . . . [His] latest labor of love is full of gorgeous prose, wonderful dialogue in regional dialect, deeply etched characters, and historical settings both rural and urban one can smell and taste. . . . Endlessly enthralling."
San Antonio Express-News

"Thought- provoking and resonant."
The Denver Post

"Wryly, and with Austenesque delicacy, Unsworth presents the intricacies of love, competition, and other timeless human emotions, as well as 18th-century law. Having invented his own brand of historical fiction, characterized by research, imagination, and a literate narrator equally adept at penetrating a society’s values or an individual’s heart, Unsworth creates a novel that works both as period piece and indictment of industrial capitalism. . . . It succeeds in presenting a compelling picture of a transitional moment in English history, not to mention in the development of the English character."
Publishers Weekly

"The Quality of Mercy is the work of one who is both artist and craftsman. There is not a page without interest, not a sentence that rings false. It is gripping and moving, a novel about justice which is worthy of that theme. In short, it is a tremendous achievement, as good as anything this great novelist has written."
The Scotsman 

"Unsworth’s is a vigorous, clear-eyed approach to history, electrified by his complete feel for the period, his neat bathetic wit and his natural gift for storytelling."
The Telegraph

"Unsworth's writing is as rich and authoritative as ever, his eye for the period detail as judicious."
The Guardian
"Entirely engrossing."
Financial Times
"Immediately involving and immensely readable."
Daily Mail

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Customer Reviews

He obviously researched his subject matters thoroughly.
As with Sacred Hunger, Unsworth's characters are developed very well and drawn with real psychological penetration.
R. Albin
Readers who like historical fiction are those most likely to enjoy The Quality of Mercy.
Stephen T. Hopkins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Revisiting the events and characters from his powerful novel Sacred Hunger, Unsworth takes up the tale of an angry man's revenge twelve years after the sinking of a slave ship off the coast of Florida, mutinous sailors and slaves coexisting an a society fashioned to meet their needs, the vessel "Liverpool Merchant" wrecked in the harbor. After much expense and personal investment, the son of the ship's owner, Erasmus Kemp, has brought the errant shipmates back to London for trial before a magistrate, revenge for his father's financial ruin, humiliation and suicide finally within his grasp. One among the ragged men awaiting trial eludes a certain fate: Sullivan, an Irish fiddler manages to escape the notice of his guards, making his way to a northern village to recount his friend Billy Blair's demise on that very same voyage to Billy's survivors.

In that spring of 1767, London is teeming with men of vision with dreams of financial expansion, property rights stringently litigated, along with concern for the common good. While the working class trudges through grim days, men of birth and privilege debate the rightness of things, approving laws for the greater good. Such is the case with the survivors of the slave ship and the question of property that case entails, Kemp thrown into an adversarial position with abolitionist Frederick Ashton, who is working passionately to have the shameful legacy of slavery outlawed. Indeed, Ashton enjoys the luxury of moral outrage, the self-made Erasmus Kemp a natural enemy of his cause. Ashton's sister, Jane, a high-minded lady imbued with the do-gooder spirit of her class, finds Kempt intriguing when he explains his new venture in the north, where he hopes to purchase a mining concern.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This fine novel is the sequel to Unsworth's outstanding Sacred Hunger. It continues his exploration of the world of expanding 18th century capitalism. Where Sacred Hunger explored the brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade, The Quality of Mercy deals with capitalism in Britain and the emerging industrial economy. Several characters and themes continue from Sacred Hunger, particularly the expanding role of market relationships, the importance of individual possession of property, and the conflict between the narrow view of property and basic human freedoms. Unsworth's analysis of these themes is subtle and sophisticated; the penetration of the market and the idea of individual possession is shown to affect even the most modest levels of society. Unsworth depicts a broad sweep of 18th century British life, with its considerable brutality, corruption, and squalor. Unsworth shows also the beginnings of a more humanitarian approach to life with characters engaged in efforts to suppress the slave trade. As with Sacred Hunger, Unsworth's characters are developed very well and drawn with real psychological penetration. Both several characters and some aspects of the plot are based loosely on real events, such as the famous Somersett trial and the notorious Zong case.

This is a fine book and much better than the great majority of historical novels. It is not as good as Sacred Hunger, but this says more about the exceptional quality of Sacred Hunger than any defects of The Quality of Mercy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Philip Spires on September 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
At first sight, The Quality Of Mercy by Barry Unsworth might appear to be a sequel. Sacred Hunger, the novel that won the author the Booker Prize, is a vast and highly moving tale about the slave trade. The Quality Of Mercy continues some of the loose ends that Sacred Hunger left, but it goes far beyond being a mere adjunct to its larger predecessor. The Quality Of Mercy makes its own points, just as significant as those of Sacred Hunger, but its form is more succinct and, in some ways, its message is more telling.

As ever with Barry Unsworth, the novel goes far beyond mere story, describes much more than the countable events that befall its characters. In Sacred Hunger, the focus was a mercantilist venture in the inhumane human trade of the eighteenth century. It was the history, its veracity, its credibility, its rawness and ultimately unacceptable reality that shone through and rendered the book a completely satisfying experience both as a narrative and as an intellectual experience.

In The Quality Of Mercy, Barry Unsworth continues the tale of the Liverpool Merchant, the ship that made Sacred Hunger's voyage in the triangular trade. But it is more than a decade since the endeavour came to its unfortunate end and Erasmus Kemp, son of the venture capitalist whose dreams of profit proved no more substantial than a pending insurance claim, is pursuing an action against a gang of mutineers from the ship who still languish in a London jail. He is also pursuing the insurance claim, the outcome of which depends in part on how the crewmen's mutiny is seen.

The Ashtons are brother and sister and, for their own reasons, support the abolition of slavery.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Moss on August 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I can understand why people say Barry Unsworth is such a cut above many writers of historical fiction.

This book follows up on the events portrayed in Sacred Hunger (though written twenty years after the earlier book) and introduces a number of new characters while only following closely the lives of two of the main characters from Sacred Hunger.

What Unsworth did so well was to meld some of the bigger issues of the mid-eighteenth century -- namely colonization and slavery in all their manifest messiness -- and show their ramifications in the lives of well-fleshed characters from a wide swath of society.

Compared to Sacred Hunger, this is a much shorter book cast on a smaller canvas -- but it's done so well.
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