One of the great things about the series of Virago Modern Classics is firstly what diverse backgrounds the writers come from and inspire the writing, and secondly how this introduces one to books that one might not otherwise have encountered. With the exception of a couple of Australian novels, my reading for this challenge has thus far been set in England or what I might term "middle-class" America. Until this weekend, I had not yet read anything set in the deep South.
Having attended a wedding on Saturday, I wanted some wedding-themed reading, and since The wedding was on my Virago TBR pile it was natural to pick it up, even though I was apprehensive about reading a book set in a situation that I knew nothing about. Happily, the "risk" of reading it paid off as I greatly enjoyed it.
Set in The Oval, an elite African-American community in Martha's Vineyard, it centres around the impending marriage of Shelby to a struggling white musician. It is a controversial match - some members of her family are for it, hoping that if they continue to marry white people, eventually there will be no trace of their coloured skin in their descendants - others are against it believing that Shelby is betraying her heritage. The book traces other people's lives and issues; Shelby's sister was lost as a child but only found after considerable time had elapsed because everyone was looking for a "coloured" child, perceiving this to be a completely black child with negroid features, rather than one who was essentially white.
Rather than a "story" I felt that this book was an exploration of race and racial prejudice; social standing to this community was much more about the tone of one's skin than money as we are often used to. West draws a number of wonderful characters and reading this book immersed me for a morning in the lives of the Ovalites gaining an insight into a world of which I knew very little.
This book was West's first for fifty years, and I am intrigued to read the other two titles she has written published as VMCs - The living is easy, and The richer, the poorer (this is a volume of memoirs I believe).
Just the one Virago cover, which is the one that I own, above.