Benson, who teaches creative writing, meets an old wartime comrade and memories of the war come flooding back. Somehow this sparks off a new awareness of his present life in Liverpool, in Thatcher's Britain. The author won the 1992 Booker Prize for "Sacred Hunger".
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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 LaskinAbout the Author:
Barry Unsworth (1930-2012), who won the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger, was a Booker Prize finalist for Morality Play and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for The Ruby in Her Navel.
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Book Description Penguin Putnam~trade. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0140119922. Bookseller Inventory # DW-UQWX-AFTK