Valerie Martin’s Property delivers an eerily mesmerizing inquiry into slavery’s venomous effects on the owner and the owned. The year is 1828, the setting a Louisiana sugar plantation where Manon Gaudet, pretty, bitterly intelligent, and monstrously self-absorbed, seethes under the dominion of her boorish husband. In particular his relationship with her slave Sarah, who is both his victim and his mistress.
Exploring the permutations of Manon’s own obsession with Sarah against the backdrop of an impending slave rebellion, Property unfolds with the speed and menace of heat lightning, casting a startling light from the past upon the assumptions we still make about the powerful and powerful.
Some of the scenes in the novel are so astonishing they would not work if Martin did not have such a fine and sure touch. Reading Property brings to mind the work of Kara Walker, the prodigious paper artist who makes sublime Victorian-style silhouettes depicting, with surreal detail, the monstrous and forcibly sensual ties between master and slave. — Yxta Maya Murray