Small Island, by Andrea Levy

Cool. I figured out how to make the book cover pics bigger.

I had heard several good recommendations for Andrea Levy’s Small Island but it took me awhile to get around to reading it. I’m glad I did. It’s the story of a Jamaican couple who move to England in the 1940s and the English couple in whose house they live for a time. The structure of the novel was different from what I expected: I thought the story would begin with Hortense and Gilbert’s arrival in England and continue to follow them throughout the years. Instead, it starts with their arrival in England and then goes into flashbacks to reveal each character’s backstory — how they got there.

I like when novels do this, because we have to re-evaluate our judgements of people based on their actions, once we get a glimpse into who they really are and what has shaped them. This novel does a brilliant job of making each of the four characters a living human being we really care about. It also vividly creates both Jamaica and postwar England as places we can see, touch, smell and taste — and illuminates the contrast between them, the culture shock immigrants of that era must have experienced.

I wasn’t happy with the ending of this book, but to explain why would involve spoilers, and the book is good enough that I don’t want to spoil it for you. You might disagree with me about the ending: you will almost certainly enjoy the process of getting there.

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1 Comment

Filed under Fiction -- historical

One response to “Small Island, by Andrea Levy

  1. John Mutford

    I liked all the chapters except those told from Bernard’s point of view. They felt very tedious to me and she tried so hard to make him “different” than the other characters (and less likeable) that I think she lost too much of her writing style. Though, Bernard’s chapters didn’t ruin the book for me. I still enjoyed it- though I’ve a bit of a thing for Jamaica.

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