Book Review: Small Island by Andrea Levy

What’s it about?

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do?

Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door.

Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was…

My thoughts

I’d never heard of Andrea Levy until her books were discussed at my Meetup book group, in which some of the members were actually discussing the BBC adaptation of The Long Song.  I watched the programme and was really impressed by the storyline so borrowed this book from a group member.

I also didn’t know much about the Windrush Generation until it hit the news recently and this book is all about the people that made that journey and also the reception that they received, from most but not all.  The title of the book Small Island is referring to Jamaica but as I was reading about all of the racism that was encountered (nothing is held back here, it’s quite offensive language) I actually thought it could actually be referring to England, and the UK – Small Island and Small minded views!

Told by Queenie, Hortense, Gilbert and Bernard we’re given very contrasting experiences of living in Jamaica and England during and after WWII.  There is an awful lot going on, so much scene setting and as much as I thought this a very interesting book, incredibly well-written, exceptionally descriptive, with very rounded characters who all play good parts, this book took me 2 weeks to read.  I can’t quite put my finger on why as I didn’t find it boring but it was such a slow burner.

That said, I raced through the last few chapters, when I’d kind of a good idea where the plot was going and how the book would end.  Oh that ending…such heartbreak and so poignant – all those what ifs!  A book about expectation and the harshness of reality and a book that I would label as “important fiction”!

At the end of June I went to see the National Theatre adaptation of Small Island which was screened at my local cinema.  This was my first experience of one of these and it was amazing.  The casting of the characters was perfect and the overall stage production was brilliant.  Highly recommended!

Book links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Author Link: Website

Small print for info
Source: Borrowed
No of pages: 533
Publisher: Tinder Press

2 Comments

  1. 5th August 2019 / 2:14 pm

    Excellent book! BBC World Service book club re-broadcast an interview with the late Andrea Levy a couple of weeks ago – really interesting to hear where her influences came from for the novel.

    • Lindsay | Bookboodle
      Author
      7th August 2019 / 7:52 pm

      Thanks, I’ll have a look for it!

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