• The Quality of Mercy

  • A Novel
  • By: Barry Unsworth
  • Narrated by: David Rintoul
  • Length: 9 hrs and 55 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (74 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Barry Unsworth returns to the terrain of his Booker Prize-winning novel Sacred Hunger, this time following Sullivan, the Irish fiddler, and Erasmus Kemp, son of a Liverpool slave ship owner who hanged himself. It is the spring of 1767, and to avenge his father's death, Erasmus Kemp has had the rebellious sailors of his father's ship, including Sullivan, brought back to London to stand trial on charges of mutiny and piracy.

But as the novel opens, a blithe Sullivan has escaped and is making his way on foot to the north of England, stealing as he goes and sleeping where he can. His destination is Thorpe in the East Durham coalfields, where his dead shipmate, Billy Blair, lived: He has pledged to tell the family how Billy met his end. In this village, Billy's sister, Nan, and her miner husband, James Bordon, live with their three sons, all destined to follow their father down the pit. The youngest, only seven, is enjoying his last summer aboveground.

Meanwhile, in London, a passionate anti-slavery campaigner, Frederick Ashton, gets involved in a second case relating to the lost ship. Erasmus Kemp wants compensation for the cargo of sick slaves who were thrown overboard to drown, and Ashton is representing the insurers who dispute his claim. Despite their polarized views on slavery, Ashton's beautiful sister, Jane, encounters Erasmus Kemp and finds herself powerfully attracted to him.

Lord Spenton, who owns coal mines in East-Durham, has extravagant habits and is pressed for money. When he applies to the Kemp merchant bank for a loan, Erasmus sees a business opportunity of the kind he has long been hoping for, a way of gaining entry into Britain's rapidly developing and highly profitable coal and steel industries. Thus he too makes his way north, to the very same village that Sullivan is heading for....

With historical sweep and deep pathos, Unsworth explores the struggles of the powerless and the captive against the rich and the powerful, and what weight mercy may throw on the scales of justice.

©2012 Barry Unsworth; 2012 AudioGO Ltd.

What listeners say about The Quality of Mercy

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  • Overall
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great follow up to Sacred Hunger

What made the experience of listening to The Quality of Mercy the most enjoyable?

Listening to The Quality of Mercy was a wonderful experience. The narration is top rate and very authentic

Any additional comments?

Barry Unsworth is a writer who delves into the rich details of the lives of his characters. One is swept away by the beauty of his narrative. He takes his readers on a journey of great depth which allows one to truly understand human nature. The people populating his work are complex figures at home in their time period. Highly recommended but first read /listen to Sacred Hunger. For some strange reason, Audible does not offer Sacred Hunger in the U.S. - I had to get a British friend to get it for me.

4 people found this helpful

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Realistic blending of head, heart and setting

I enjoy reading academic history of the colonial and early Republican American states. I've read much much less about England in the same period, although I'd like to read more. From what I've read so far about life in the 18th and 19th centuries and slavery, this novel possesses a good sense of historical accuracy. The author was thoughtful in developing how characters would've thought, felt, and maneuvered through their personal situations. He places each person in detailed political and social contexts. The story is interesting and easy to follow, even when feeling unwell. The narrator is pleasing.

1 person found this helpful

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Strong writing, great characters

I really loved so much about this book. The writing is good, it has a Dickens-like quality, with quirky fascinating characters inhabiting a vividly depicted historical landscape. However, the book would have benefited by being longer (how often can you say that?) Each character had its own story to play out and could have used further development. It almost seemed like the story rushed to the finish line, with an ending that was just a bit too neat. I wish the writer would go back and embellish and develop it more, I would happily read that version! But this version had plenty to offer.

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Dear Mr. Unsworth

please continue!! your prose and story-telling are excellent and I regret your not continuing to make this saga of enslavent on all levels at least a trilogy if not a quartet!! Bravo. Signed, Hungering.