The opening of Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan was almost enough to put me off.
“Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood.”
The corpse is the narrator’s father and it looks like he didn’t die in his sleep. Mud is everywhere. Did I want to spend time in this bleak world? The narration soon shifts to Laura, who for me was the main character even though different voices are heard. She shows us how a late marriage to a kind and thoughtful older man brought her to a farmhouse little better than a hovel in the mud of the Mississipi delta. But alongside the human drama of Laura, her respect for Henry and passion for his younger brother, there’s a more powerful story of the friendship between Jamie, the younger man and his black neighbour – both of them home from war service - at a time when blacks were still little better than slaves on a white man’s land. This is the key to a tragedy that works on every scale, close to home and on the wider stage of history.
I didn’t pick the book up because it was a prize-winner, but I found it moving and powerful and do think it has earned its accolades. It’s also an interesting example of my old friend the Prologue (if you have a view on prologues in general, take a look at Nathan Brandsford’s blog where you can place your vote!)
In Mudbound the prologue is not the beginning of the story but the end, something that’s quite hard to pull off without ruining the tension. Having said that, the ‘real’ beginning of this novel (p.13 onwards) does have a lot of scene setting and not a great deal of pace. I can see that the prologue gives enough information to keep us reading in the knowledge that something pretty drastic is coming up, but also leaves enough unsaid. I think this means it’s a good one!