Once I started it, I felt sorry that I had been putting it off for so long. Far from making it difficult to read, the use of "Ebonics" (thanks again to Claire for introducing me to this concept, which refers to vernacular language used by African Americans) added an extra dimension to the writing and made the prose look extremely lyrical, as this passage where Janie talks about love demonstrates:
"Love ain't somethin' lak uh grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore"
The book tells the story of Janie, raised by her grandmother in Florida just after the end of slavery but before the start of the civil rights movement. Her grandmother marries her off at an early age, believing that this is the only way to avoid trouble with boys and to keep her "chaste". But this first marriage is loveless and soon her husband stops treating her well. So when her grandmother dies, she runs off with another man, Joe Sparks. He takes her away to a new town, inhabited only by blacks, and sets up a store and becomes the town mayor. He gives Janie everything that she wants, but as Joe Sparks becomes more and more involved in the running of the town he has less and less time for Janie. He becomes ill, and whilst Janie at first nurses him, he gradually refuses to allow her into his sickroom, and dies. For a time, Janie runs the store herself, adjusting to life alone, with little interest in meeting another man. But then "Tea cake" comes into her life and she finally has a fulfilling relationship which does not diminish her self-worth.
It is a hugely intriguing read dealing with all sorts of issues; the role and status of women, the issue of race (Janie is a fair-skinned black woman), and the whole culture of the period - so absolutely fascinating as well as a beautifully written and enthralling story.
Anyway, there are three Virago editions, two in green, and one in Anniversary hardback, which I am now coveting... I see that Virago have published Jonah's Gourd Vine by Hurston as well, so I look forward to encountering that.