I was totally hooked on this book after reading just the first chapter, and I finished the whole thing in less than 24 hours (and that's a busy 24 hours with lots of other "real life" things happening too). Hilliary Jordan paints a vivid picture of mud-soaked misery and I was right in there splashing about with the characters from the very beginning.
In Mudbound we follow the story of Laura, a thirty year old spinster who can hardly believe her good fortune when a mild-mannered farmer named Henry takes a shine to her and asks her to marry him. At first their life is good, but when Henry buys some land in the heart of the Mississipi Delta, Laura finds herself plunged into a harsh new life in a house that's little more than a shack and a farm that's so waterlogged and unpleasant that she immediately names it Mudbound.
Life on Henry's farm means having to put up with his thoroughly nasty father, who picks holes in everything Laura does and makes her life as miserable as he can. But when Henry's brother Jamie returns home after the war, Laura finds herself faced with new problems, as she fights a growing attraction to this handsome, charismatic pilot, who offers such a contrast to her own solid, dependable but boring husband.
However, Laura's life is only a part of the story. We also follow the lives of the black, sharecropper family who work part of Henry's land. Hap and Florence work hard to provide for their family and long for the day when their eldest son, Ronsel, will come home after spending the war as an NCO fighting in a tank regiment in Europe. But when Ronsel does return home his attitudes have changed, and he finds it hard to become a humble black man again and show blind respect to the bigoted whites who demand it of him.
It becomes obvious fairly early on in the book that it is working towards some sort of shocking climax. All the "if only we hadn't done..." and "it may have turned out differently if..." comments make it clear that we are heading somewhere awful. I must admit, this made me feel a little apprehensive; so often when an author promises a big finish, it can be an anticlimax when it finially gets there. However, I needn't have worried on this occasion - the end of this book is genuinely shocking and has a chilling inevitability about it that's very powerful.
There's something about this book that feels very real, as though the events actually happened and are being related by real people. The novel is told in the first person by six of the main characters - Laura, Henry, Jamie, Hap, Florence and Ronsel - and each one of them has their own unique voice through which their identity shines. Though Mudbound is disturbing in parts, I really couldn't put it down, and it's definitely one of the best books I have read this year. Five stars.