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What Happens When Poltergeist Meets Uncle Tom?


You get Toni Morrison’s classic novel, Beloved. Book #29.

So throughout this project, I’ve chosen to go into a lot of these novels “cold.”  In other words, outside of my quick and simple preview of the book, I don’t dig into a lot of detail and backstory before I start reading.

I’m already familiar with some of the books, but, in many cases, I don’t know much at all about the novel I’m about to read. To name a few that started with me being totally ignorant: Gone With The Wind, Catch 22, I, Claudius, The Blind Assassin.

Add Beloved to that list.

I was expecting this novel by Toni Morrison to be a typical story of slaves struggling during the post-Civil War period, not unlike some of the things I read about in Gone With The Wind. But, within a few pages, I realized this one was going to be different.

Ghosts are up in there. Like, baby ghosts. All of the sudden I’m picturing a four-year-old little blonde girl in front of a TV screen in a dimly lit room. It’s all Poltergeistish, and chairs are flying through the room while lights flicker on and off. So, yeah, Beloved is a slave story, set in the 1870s, with ghosts. Baby ghosts. Kind of creepy. I don’t know about you, but, for me, baby ghosts fall just shy of clowns on the creep-o-meter.

Here’s the line where I realized Beloved was going to be a different kind of novel:

“Leave the place alone! Get the hell out!” A table rushed toward him and he grabbed its leg. Somehow he managed to stand at an angle and, holding the table by two legs, he bashed it about, wrecking everything, screaming back at the screaming house. “You want to fight, come on!”…The three of them, Sethe, Denver, and Paul D, breathed to the same beat, like one tired person. Another breathing was just as tired.

So, yeah, this is a bit like Uncle Tom meets Poltergeist. Ghosts and flying tables. Unusual, yes, but that makes the story all the more appealing–at least early in the game.

Any thoughts on the ghosts in Beloved? (Don’t spoil the plot!) Or any favorite ghost stories in general?

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13 Comments Post a comment
  1. When I started this I felt the same way – sort of, “holy crap, i wasn’t expecting THIS.” i was reading some horror novel at the same time and Beloved was so much more frightening to me; Morrison does such a fantastic job setting the mood and pushing you to figure out what’s going on in that house.

    This ghost gets better/creepier as the novel progresses; but the ghost also forms a pretty direct connection back to some of the ideas Morrison explores here about personal history and ownership and the ways we’re defined by our pasts or use them to define us.

    Can’t wait to read more of your thoughts on Beloved.

    October 20, 2011
    • Glad to hear it gets creepier. I’m not a huge ghost story, scary novel guy, but out of all the books I’ve read so far, I’ve missed that. This should be a nice change.

      October 20, 2011
  2. I haven’t read “Beloved”, yet. Think I will, as my preconceptions of the book were similar to yours. My favourite ghost stories are by MR James, particularly “O whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad”. Very creepy, without having to resort to gore or big shocks. One of his short stories “Casting the runes” was made as a film “Night of the demon”, though the short story was far more effective. I would recommend that one.

    October 20, 2011
  3. How’s it going, Robert? I’m really enjoying your blog.

    In answer to your final question – “Or any favorite ghost stories in general?” – there were quite a few in the Everyman Library’s collection of ghost stories. I read the whole thing last October and posted a blog listing sites where some of the stories could be found online. Check it out if you’re looking for some Halloween reading (though it sounds like you might already have some ideal Halloween reading material in Beloved):


    October 20, 2011
    • Thanks for the info. Maybe I should’ve saved the ghost question for Halloween!

      October 20, 2011
  4. Beloved is a wonderful book. I, like Ellen am looking forward to reading your future thoughts on the book. One of my most prized possessions is a signed copy of Morrison’s Paradise. I have not read it. It was a gift from a publishing rep back when I worked for Borders.

    My favorite ghost story is Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I haven’t read it in many years, but remember loving it when I did. Are the ghosts real or is the character becoming unglued? I could not put it down.

    October 20, 2011
  5. Teresa #

    I’m not of particularly crazy about creepy. But this sounds like fun. Can’t wait to start.

    BTW I was looking for a new book to read on my business trip on Sunday and (incorrectly) guessed you might read Never Let Me Go next. What a page turner. Read it in a day then digested it for 2 days. Loved it. can’t wait to see your reaction.

    October 20, 2011
    • Might do that one next? Not sure yet.

      October 20, 2011
  6. Rula Mazigi #

    Yes, I recall mentioning that it was “haunting” but I didn’t want to give away exactly what that meant ;-) The novel creates quite an eerie atmosphere, and the child ghost is not quite friendly and this brings me back to the first chapter in which we first get introduced to the terrible suffering of her mother which solidifies within the reader a first impression of sympathy before we’re hit hard over the head with the what seems like the most terrible act a mother could commit against her child. This, for me, is a brilliant set up as we are left conflicted as to our feelings towards the mother, especially given the ghost child’s disturbing presence in her life as she appears vengeful, yet sometimes also sensitively attached. Yes, our past haunts us, wherever we go our associations follow us, there we are. Hope you enjoy the rest and interested to hear more of your views.

    October 20, 2011
    • There’s a lot going on with this one. I’m realizing how good Toni Morrison is at weaving everything together.

      October 20, 2011
  7. I haven’t read this book, but I’ve heard good things about it. Looking forward to your review.

    October 21, 2011
  8. homec #

    I had a similar reaction to Ellen. I was a little slow on the uptake, I was like is this really a ghost or is it one of those stories where you think there is a ghost and the people are actually just crazy? It was a very unexpected read for sure, but so great. I loved it. And I am not a ghost person, they freak me out. I’m with you on the baby ghosts vs. clown situation. I think the ghost would win.

    October 21, 2011

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  1. Book #29: Beloved | 101 Books

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