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Sugar and Rum: A Novel (Norton Paperback Fiction) Paperback – January 23, 2013
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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
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.