This is a powerful book. In simple prose, free from literary flourishes, Butler tells an amazing tale. Or rather, she doesn't tell the tale: she allows her central character, Dana, to tell the story for her. Written as a memoir, the story unfolds entirely from Dana's point of view. The reader is there with her as she describes her experiences of travel in space and time, from her present as a young black writer in 1976 California to life on a plantation in antebellum Maryland. Dana’s experiences are all the more startling because they just happen: there is no explanation of why or how. Indeed, no explanation is possible, because Dana doesn't know why this "thing" keeps happening to her or how it happens.
The language of the novel is matter of fact and economical: not a word is wasted. Through Dana's descriptions and simple dialogue, the reader experiences the brutality of slavery. All of the violence and the degradation is there, described unflinchingly, but neither sensationally nor gratuitously. Characterisation is also strong: both Dana and the other characters with whom she interacts are real and complex – not mere stereotypes. The language and characters carry the themes of the novel in a way that makes this book one of the most memorable I have read for a long time.
This is a book which I probably would never have read but for Goodreads. I found it on a friend’s bookshelf and thought it sounded interesting. How glad I am that it came my way.