This is a novel about the triangle trade in the mid 1700s, and is it about the struggle between greed, profit, humanity, enslavement, liberation and civilization - some pretty heavy themes that I traditionally associate with American literature (though Unsworth is British). So much about this book is exquisite: the depth of the characters, the fluxuating narration style, the the vivid metaphor and rich language, and the incredibly moving story. The juxtaposition of Erasmus and Paris was a perfect tool in playing out the contradictions and moral pitfalls of the various aspects of the slave trade. And even though there are probably a hundred named characters in the novel, each character, no matter how minor, came across as a complete and real person, with a purpose in the narrative.
One of the aspects of the writing that really struck me this time around was the prevalence of metaphors related to slavery, and the various ways in which people and even objects can be shackled, caged, and enslaved - including and especially the drive for profits, the Sacred Hunger of the title:
It is always through arbitrary combinations that experience enslaves the memory. New shackles were being forged here, in the light-filled loft, amid smells of oil canvas and raw hemp and tar, the creeping fringes of the sail-cloth, his feelings for Sarah Wolpert and for his father.I first read this for part of an interdisciplinary college course called "Slavery and Labor in Film and Literature" - and it was by far the best part of that class. It is still one of my favorite of all of the Bookers I have read - and I couldn't recommend it more highly.