Small Island - Andrea Levy

Headline Review

Mark Haddon

'Is as full of warmth and jokes and humanity as you could wish.'

Time Out



Small Island is, in one word, brilliant! From the moment I picked it up I slipped straight into the story, reading as little as a paragraph at a time just to find out what happened next.

The story focuses on two young couples; one Jamaican, who have moved to England after the Second World War, the other an English couple separated for almost 5 years because of the war.

The story is slow to introduce the reader to all of the main characters and throughout the book Levy moves between 1948 and "Before" - a time when they were all younger. As the tale progresses, more and more is revealed about each of them until how they came to be in their current predicament is made clear.

The story is both frustrating and heartbreaking in parts as it deals with the harsh reality of Britain both during and post war. The major cause of the sadness in the book is the racism displayed by many British people during the 1948 period. The young Jamaican woman, Hortense, moves to England with a naive view of the country. A respectable young woman in Jamaica, she is hit by a harsh reality when in London she is reduced to the lower rungs of society. The other characters suffer similar humiliations as the story progresses: Queenie, a young English housewife, is desperate to be happy but is stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage to Bernard. He is unable to express his emotions and holds the general view that "coloureds" are 'lesser' citizens for reasons we don't discover until we hear of his days in the RAF. Finally Gilbert, Hortense's husband, is determined to work his way to a better life as his positive attitude take a continuous beating because of his race and origin.

Levy strikes the perfect balance by having four main protagonists and switching between the past and 'present' day keeps you continually curious. Whilst the book deals with some of the topical issues of the era, there are scatterings of funny and happy moments which stop the story from becoming too somber. An unexpected twist at the end underlines the sadness and destruction caused by the prejudices of society. Although, as with any good author, we are left with a tiny glimmer of hope for four people it is impossible not to become attached to.



Reviewed on 09/04/2006 by Angela


Reviewed item details

Winner of the Whitbread Novel Award and

Orange Prize for Fiction Best of the Best 2005.

ISBN: 0-755-30750-X

Purchase the reviewed item

RRP: ?7.99



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