The Polished Hoe

Patty Osborne

It’s taken me a month to get halfway through the 462-page hardcover book The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke (Thomas Allen), which means I’m only halfway through the twenty-four hours during which the story takes place. I like the book—Clarke’s prose is rich and rhythmical, even if the pace is excruciatingly slow. Sometimes I just set this big fat book aside in favour of a shorter, less weighty tome, especially when I’m riding the bus. ButThe Polished Hoe still sits on my bedside table, because I know I’ll be back. The story is set in a sugar plantation in the West Indies, where Mary-Mathilda is telling a police officer about something terrible she has done. Well, she hasn’t actually told him yet, but I think that’s where we’re heading. We’ll get there eventually, and in the meantime I’m enjoying the slow, languid journey. The best book I’ve read between chapters of The Polished Hoe is Jane Eaton Hamilton’s latest book, Hunger (Oberon), a collection of ten short stories, including the best story about breast cancer that I have ever read. Told from the husband’s point of view as he tries to be “one of the good husbands” who unselfishly supports his wife through a mastectomy and chemotherapy, the story reveals his conflicting emotions without apology or theatrics. In a funnier story, a father worries about the situations that his twenty-one-year-old daughter is getting into (she has just moved away from home), but by the time he figures out what advice to give her she has solved her own problem and is embroiled in something else. The speed at which she changes her mind leaves her father reeling and brings back memories of my own maternal dealings with teenagers and twenty-somethings. Hamilton’s writing is clear and direct, and her characters are me and the people I know.

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