Small Island

Small Island

Paperback Review

By (author) Andrea Levy

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  • Publisher: HEADLINE REVIEW
  • Format: Paperback | 560 pages
  • Dimensions: 142mm x 202mm x 36mm | 375g
  • Publication date: 1 November 2005
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 075530750X
  • ISBN 13: 9780755307500
  • Edition statement: Revised ed.
  • Sales rank: 11,021

Product description

Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, as well as many other awards, Andrea Levy's SMALL ISLAND is a delicately wrought and profoundly moving novel of empire, prejudice, war and love. It has now been adapted into a major BBC TV drama. 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...

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Author information

Andrea Levy was born in England to Jamaican parents who came to Britain in 1948. After attending writing workshops when she was in her mid-thirties, Levy began to write the novels that she, as a young woman, had always wanted to read - entertaining novels that reflect the experiences of black Britons, which look at Britain and its changing population and at the intimacies that bind British history with that of the Caribbean. She has written five novels, been a judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Orange Futures and the Saga Prize, and has been a recipient of an Arts Council Award. Her most recent novel, THE LONG SONG, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and her acclaimed novel SMALL ISLAND won the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best, the Whitbread Novel Award, the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, was adapted into a major BBC TV drama.

Review quote

'A brilliantly deft and humane account of two ordinary couples in post-war London' Evening Standard, 3 February 2004 Evening Standard Every scene is rich in implication, entrancing and disturbing at the same time; the literary equivalent of a switch-back ride The Sunday Times 'Small Island is never less than finely-written, delicately and often comically observed, and impressively rich in detail and little nuggets of stories' Evening Standard, 2 February 2004 Evening Standard What makes Levy's writing so appealing is her even-handedness. All her characters can be weak, hopeless, brave, good, bad - whatever their colour. The writing is rigorous and the bittersweet ending, with its unexpected twist, touching... People can retain great dignity, however small their island Independent on Sunday 'Small Island is as full of warmth and jokes and humanity as you could wish...Such a rich saga, stuffed full of interlocking narratives' Time Out, 2 February 2004 Time Out 'A cracking good read' Margaret Forster 'A great read...honest, skilful, thoughtful and important' Guardian 'An involving saga about the changing face of Britain' Mirror, 6 February 2004 Mirror 'It's an engrossing read - slyly funny, passionately angry and wholly involving' Daily Mail, 6 February 2004 Daily Mail 'Explores the Caribbean experience of immigration to Britain with great sensitivity' Independent 'Wonderful...seamless...a magnificent achievement' Linda Grant 'I know it is a fiction, but I emerged from the book full of admiration for the patience and resilience of that generation...Levy has written one of those rare fictions that tells you things you didn't know but feel you should have known...the writing is deft and striking, without being pretentious' Sunday Herald, 8/2/04 Sunday Herald 'With this funny, tender, intelligent fourth novel Andrea Levy looks set to become as commercially popular as she is critically acclaimed' Sainsbury's magazine, February 2004 Sainsbury's magazine 'Never less than finely written, delicately and often comically observed, and impressively rich in detail and little nuggets of stories' Evening Standard 'An engrossing read - slyly funny, passionately angry and wholly involving' Daily Mail 'An impressive break-through novel' Publishing News, 23/1/04 Publishing News 'It is a work of great imaginative power which ranks alongside Sam Selvon's THE LONELY LONDONERS, George Lamming's THE EMIGRANTS and Caryl Phillips' THE FINAL PASSAGE in dealing with the experience of migration' Linton Kwesi Johnson Linton Kwesi Johnson 'A work of great imaginative power' Linton Kwesi Johnson 'As full of warmth and jokes and humanity as you could wish' Time Out 'What makes Levy's writing so appealing is her even-handedness. All her characters can be weak, hopeless, brave, good, bad - whatever their colour. The writing is rigorous and the bittersweet ending, with its unexpected twist, touching... People can retain great dignity, however small their island' Independent on Sunday, 25/1/04 Independent on Sunday 'A bevy of luminaries have garlanded Andrea Levy's fourth novel with advance praise - and it's no surprise. Using elements of her own family background, Levy has vividly animated London in the immediate aftermath of World War II... She weaves a wonderfully detailed and vibrant story' Red magazine, February 2004 issue Red magazine, February 2004 issue 'Gives us a new urgent take on our past' Vogue 'A terrific book' Alan Plater Alan Plater 'Wonderful...seamless...a magnificent achievement' Linda Grant Linda Grant 'A cracking good read...I think what appealed to me most was the passion and anger in the writing all the way through, yet it was always leavened with a particularly wry sort of humour - the sort that, tho' you find yourself smiling, you at the same time realise you almost shouldn't be' Margaret Forster Margaret Forster 'I enjoyed SMALL ISLAND enormously and wish it every success. It conjures up so vividly the era of the 1940's and expresses so vividly through the lives of its four protagonists the conflicts and racist attitudes that existed at that time. A wonderful insight into a little understood period' Joan Bakewell Joan Bakewell 'A worthy winner of the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction...Levy does not set out to preach, and her light touch, wry humour and down-to-earth, almost gossipy tone make this novel as readable as it is challenging' The Sunday Times, 19/9/04 The Sunday Times 'Small Island is a brilliant picture of the dented dreams of Jamaicans in post-war Britain' Financial Times, Dec 04 Financial Times 'Soon you will be enchanted. It is good enough to compete against anything written this year' Jasper Gerard, News Review, Sunday Times 13/6/04 Jasper Gerard, News Review, Sunday Times 'Small Island is an astonishing tour de force by Andrea Levy. Juggling four voices, she illuminates a little known aspect of recent British history with wit and wisdom. A compassionate account of the problems of post war immigration, it cannot fail to have a strong modern resonance' Sandi Toksvig, Orange Prize judge, 8/6/04 Sandi Toksvig, Orange Prize judge 'Levy offers her readers rich satisfaction from both story and character' The Times, 10/7/04 The Times 'This won the Orange prize for its insight, compassion, wealth of historical details and its cracking plot' Independent on Sunday, 11/7/04 Independent on Sunday 'Levy's trinity of voices gently refutes the idea that the story of West Indian immigration has anything to do with (free) teeth or glasses' Guardian, 9/10/04 Guardian 'The small islands of Andrea Levy's title are not Britain, Jamaica or the outlying Caribbean islands - they are the blinkered mindsets of both the hopelessly optimistic West Indians and the reflexively racist Britons who have to learn to live together both during and after the war. But Levy's concern is not to browbeat but to educate and entertain. This deserving winner of the Orange Prize never loses its wit, energy or power' Observer, 30/10/04 Observer 'A touching, eloquently written story...Andrea Levy expertly captures the turbulence of a time of momentous change' Sunday Telegraph, 17/10/04 Sunday Telegraph 'It's more than a novel, it's a recreation of a largely unexplored episode of our history...the narrative voices seem so authentic that it is easy to become lost in their sometimes dark, sometimes joyous worlds' Daily Express, 15/10/04 Daily Express 'Levy handles themes of empire, prejudice, war and love with a lightness of touch and an uplifting generosity of spirit' Age, Melbourne Age, Melbourne 'Levy tactfully delves into her family history while tackling the heavy issues of prejudice, assimilation and love in the ordinary lives of Jamaican migrants' MX, Melbourne, 31/5/04 MX, Melbourne 'Levy's book brings freshness and humour as well as indignation and pity to its survey of social and racial prejudice half a century ago' The Sunday Times, 28/11/04 The Sunday Times 'A spellbinding story... An enthralling tour de force that animates a chapter in the history of empire' Kirkus Reviews Kirkus Reviews 'Levy's must-read novel seems to gain stature with time' Sunday Express magazine, 12/6/05 Sunday Express magazine 'What a deserved winner she is. It was a very good shortlist but in my opinion Small Island stood out at the longlist stage - for its writing, its wit and the impressively light touch she brought to the subject' Minette Walters, 15/6/04 Minette Walters 'Small Island operates on a larger canvas than Levy's previous novels. It's neither splashy nor experimental, but for thoughtfulness & wry humour cannot be faulted' Telegraph 21/2/04 Telegraph 'Small Island is a great read, delivering the sort of pleasure which has been the traditional stock-in-trade of a long line of English novelists. It's honest, skilful, thoughtful and important. This is Andrea Levy's big book' Guardian 14/2/04 Guardian 'Andrea Levy gives us a new urgent take on our past' Vogue 13/2/04 Vogue '[A] moving, funny, honest novel' Elle 13/2/04 Elle 'Every scene is rich in implication, entrancing and disturbing at the same time; the literary equivalent of a switch-back ride' The Sunday Times, 29/2/04 The Sunday Times 'Here is the book I have been waiting for... an ample, sprawling story of nearly 450 pages, mirroring an expansive inner and outer landscape, spanning two islands and three continents, and incorporating a hybrid cast of humanly idiosyncratic characters; and above all, a book in which the author, Andrea Levy, never once forgets she is telling a story, delighting us, improbably, in this nasty tale of race, with the effervescent style of Dickens' Globe & Mail, Toronto, 12/6/04 Globe & Mail, Toronto 'Very ambitious and beautifully written... in addition [it's] funny and fiercely satirical' Richard Eyre in the Guardian, 16/6/05 Guardian 'Small Island is a slyly humorous, rich feast of a book' Mail on Sunday, 17/10/04 Mail on Sunday 'A beautifully crafted, compassionate novel, well worth reading' Bulletin with Newsweek, 4/5/04 Bulletin with Newsweek, Australia '[Hortense] has guts and this portrait of her world is created with strong feeling that is subtly, and brilliantly, rendered' Sydney Morning Herald, 1/5/04 Sydney Morning Herald 'Funny, poignant and profoundly moving...Small Island deals with the weighty themes of empire, prejudice, love and war with such humour and compassion that Levy has been praised for her even-handedness by some, condemned for it by others' West Australian, 1/5/04 West Australian 'Levy's story is a triumph in perspective...a triumph of poise, organisation and deep, deep character - the sort of work that can only be achieved by an experienced novelist' Age, Melbourne 17/4/04 Age, Melbourne 'Everything about the plot, characters and clever end twist of SMALL ISLAND [is] beautifully drawn... This is an epic book that brings the patois of Jamaicans alive, fills the world of war-torn London with amazing detail and is a great history lesson about the era when England changed forever as migrants braved bitter racism to flood her shores' Herald Sun (Melbourne), 10/4/04 Herald Sun (Melbourne)

Back cover copy

Winner of the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction A Picador Original Trade Paperback Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer's daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve. Told in these four voices, "Small Island "is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers---in short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant's life. Born in 1956 to Jamaican parents, Andrea Levy is the author of three previous novels and has received a British Arts Council Writers Award in addition to the Orange Prize and Whitbread distinctions. She lives and works in London.