The Polished Hoe


Winner of the 2002 Scotiabank Giller Prize and of the 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Best Book (Canada and the Caribbean)

When an elderly Bimshire village woman calls the police to confess to a murder, the result is a shattering all-night vigil that brings together elements of the African diaspora in one epic sweep. Set on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire in 1952, The Polished Hoe unravels over the course of 24 hours but spans the lifetime of one woman and the collective experience of a society informed by slavery.

As the novel opens, Mary Mathilda is giving confession to Sargeant, a police officer she has known all her life. The man she claims to have murdered is Mr. Belfeels, the village plantation owner for whom she has worked for more than thirty years. Mary has also been Mr. Belfeels’ mistress for most of that time and is the mother of his only son, Wilberforce, a successful doctor.

What transpires through Mary’s words and recollections is a deep meditation about the power of memory and the indomitable strength of the human spirit. Infused with Joycean overtones, this is a literary masterpiece that evokes the sensuality of the tropics and the tragic richness of Island culture.


Giller Prize
Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Best Book (Canada and the Caribbean)


An utterly extraordinary and thoroughly compelling tragedy of Shakespearean scope...stunning and ought to be both widely read and deeply remembered.

Globe and Mail

An unqualified masterpiece.

Toronto Star

... The Polished Hoe is a remarkable achievement. Its story is obviously deeply felt...

The London Free Press

It's an undeniably ambitious work...the story unfolds over one evening--which actually spans a lifetime... It was long past the time when Austin Clarke should have been acknowledged as one of Canada's most important and most accomplished writers.

Kitchener-Waterloo Record

...a wonderful book to meander through...

Quill & Quire

an incredible panorama of the post-colonial impressive work by a highly accomplished Canadian author deserved of recognition indeed.

Toronto’s Women’s Newspaper

...extremely ambitious...compulsively readable and challenging at the same time... This is an unforgettable novel.

Edmonton Journal

The Polished Hoe is a magnificent, breath-taking plunge into the secret depths of human relations... Clarke is a master at capturing the flavour and nuance of language and weaving its local intricacies into universal stories.

Ottawa Citizen

...brilliantly written dialogue, a rich, dancing patois that fills out the dimensions of the island's painful history and its complex caste system.

Publishers Weekly

Austin Clarke's latest novel, The Polished Hoe, is that rare creation that soars above the earth to become more than the sum of its parts.

Books in Canada

About the Author

Austin Clarke

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
Austin Clarke photo

Austin Clarke

Austin Clarke is one of Canada’s foremost authors, whose work includes ten novels, six short-story collections, three memoirs, and two collections of poetry. His novel The Polished Hoe won the 2002 Giller Prize. Clarke is a member of the Order of Canada, holds four honorary doctorates, and has been awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the W.O. Mitchell Prize, and the Casa de las Américas Prize, among others.