Humankind by Michael Whitehead

Michael Whitehead has written a novel which is quite topical in its subject matter as its story centres around the influence that the history of slavery continues to have on our society today: far-reaching and emotive.

Beginning with the retelling of an incredibly brutal incident in Trinidad involving a plantation overseer and three slaves, the novel then jumps to the present day and to Henry Hooper, an ex-soldier and orphan. With the help of a friend, he gains employment with Edwin Massey, a property owner in Dorset in south west England who needs someone to help manage Mountview, his estate.

The narrative shifts between Henry’s first person perspective and the additional third person narrative which fills in everything else. Henry tells us about his role and experiences at Mountview and then, the perspective switches to third person and Edwin and his business ventures and pastimes as well as the organisation Humankind, a group advocating for the rights of slaves, who have become instrumental in the area in providing demonstrations, rallying people to protest against the glorifying of this shameful past with statues and museum exhibits.

When I started this book, I thought that it was going to be good and it was in parts. Henry is an engaging narrator and I liked the stories from his army days and the friendships that he formed as a result that later become more important as he calls on one of them for help. The development of his relationship with Lois is realistically drawn and he is a likeable character, Whitehead using a lot of humour and candour to make this so.

I enjoyed reading the story and seeing where it was heading and it was easy to read. Whitehead is a good storyteller in terms of the way that the book has been put together with the realisation of characters and plot and ending – there was nothing confusing here.

That being said, I thought that the book could be darker and felt like the surface was skimmed with some of the issues that were proposed. The suggestion at the start is that there is this sinister past associated with the Hampshire estate and the idea that its tendrils will be reaching into the present is a great idea. I think more could have been made of this threat, adding the tension that it lacked to make it a great read.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.

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