52/17 The Bluest Eye

By Toni Morrison

This is such a beautiful, lyrical book. I’ve wanted to read something by Toni Morrison for years, but I always thought I would start with Beloved. I’m glad I started with this instead. I read this over two days (a Friday and a Tuesday), both at work and separated only by the long Christmas weekend. Work in my office is so quiet, and the atmosphere so still, almost dull, just a few people clicking away at their computers. Rewarding this book in that setting made it so solemn. There are books that make you want to be loud and exuberant in explaining how you feel about them. But there’s something about the tone of The Bluest Eye and the beauty with which its been written that makes you want to calm yourself and absorb it differently, because it demands a different sort of respect from you.

The premise of the book is the sad hope of a young black girl, impregnated by her father, to have blue eyes. It really was so beautifully written but I have just one example here that gave me pause:

Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another – physical beauty. Probably the two most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion. In equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it, and collected self-contempt by the heap.

But this excerpt also acts as an example of what frustrated me about the book sometimes. There was something very obviously reflective, even reflexive, of personal experiences throughout it; Morrison’s own thoughts about black lives and experiences, beauty and ugliness. But I’m a fan of these ideas coming out in their characters instead of feeling like an aside from the authors themselves, and the book’s failing, to me, was that these were a lot less subtle than I would have liked them to be. But even in telling me what she’s thinking so explicitly, she does it poignantly, elegantly, and the books reads like poetry.

Besides the writing, the story is just captivating. The idea of this little girl wanting something so desperately made my heart hurt, and the way she explored how her father, her mother, her friends, came to the places they had arrived to – she humanised everyone, without exception. I think you would like that about this, actually, how empathetic the book reads. Things you could cast off as despicable were given context, background, thought, some measure of understanding from author to character and thus reader to character as well. It was an impressive and thought provoking read, and I would highly recommend it. (Also my last book of the year, which is a strong note to end on.)

52/17 The Bluest Eye

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