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Small Island by Andrea Levy
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Small Island (original 2004; edition 2004)

by Andrea Levy

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3,0741211,847 (3.88)554
Member:rosasaks
Title:Small Island
Authors:Andrea Levy
Info:Headline Paperbacks (2004), Paperback, 560 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Work details

Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)

  1. 70
    White Teeth by Zadie Smith (SqueakyChu)
    SqueakyChu: Both are novels about multicultutalism which consider Jamaican culture affecting England.
  2. 50
    The Other Hand by Chris Cleave (whymaggiemay)
  3. 40
    Brick Lane by Monica Ali (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Both these excellent novels examine the issues of immigration and assimilation in England, though the cultures and backgrounds are different.
  4. 20
    The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (kathrynnd)
  5. 10
    Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (tcarter)
  6. 00
    The Same Earth by Kei Miller (alalba)
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» See also 554 mentions

English (123)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (125)
Showing 1-5 of 123 (next | show all)
rom Jamaica to England
By sally tarbox on 19 April 2012
Format: Paperback
Engrossing tale of two couples and the way their lives interweave. It's 1948 and Hortense and Gilbert have recently arrived from Jamaica- he as an airman in the war, she to join him afterwards. Meanwhile in England we follow the unsatisfactory marriage of Queenie and Bernard, till he is sent to serve in India...
As a white Brit, I found the account of the life endured by the first West Indian immigrants educational if shocking. It was the endlessness of the racism they faced that was so awful.
As Gilbert writes 'I yearned for home as a drunk man for whisky. For only there could I be sure that someone looking on my face for the first time would regard it without reaction. No gapes, no gawps, no cussing, no looking quickly away as if seeing something unsavoury...what a forlorn desire to seek indifference.'
The book is narrated in part by each of the four characters, looking back on their pasts and writing of their present.
Really enjoyable book, keeps you reading to the end to see if the secret will come out... ( )
  starbox | Jul 9, 2016 |
There is nothing obviously wrong with this book but it didn't hold my interest at all. The history is good but the characters seemed one-dimensional, meant to represent a circumstance rather than a real person. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
Jamaicans come to London during WWII. One of the best books I've read in ages. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
It is 1948, and Hortense has moved from Jamaica to England to live with her husband Gilbert. We see her disappointment as she moves into a grotty room in Earl's Court which Gilbert rents from Londoner Queenie. We gradually realise Hortense is quite stuck up and is obviously very unhappy with where she finds herself We then hear her back story before we go once again to 1948.
The story that develops in the "present" is fascinating as we know that there is a lot left unsaid and all the characters are really interesting. We go on to hear back stories of Gilbert and Queenie, and Queenie's stiff husband Bernard. We learn a lot about the characters in this way - much of which the other characters don't know themselves.
There are lots of interesting scenes in the book and it is interesting to see Hortense's defences start to fall as she realises the racism inherent in 1940s London. It is also interesting the the black woman isn't the heroine of the tale, and in some ways the male characters - particularly Gilbert - come across more strongly.
I really loved this book and found the ending - where Queenie gives birth to a mixed race baby that she gives to Gilbert and Hortense to bring up as their own - very moving. Even the twist (that the baby's father was Michael, the son of Hortense's cousin with whom she was in love) was managed well so it didn't seem like too much of an unlikely coincidence. ( )
  AHouseOfBooks | Jan 27, 2016 |
Gorgeous book. ( )
  RealLifeReading | Jan 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 123 (next | show all)
Levy's greatest achievement in ''Small Island'' is to convey how English racism was all the more heartbreaking for its colonial victims because it involved the crushing of their ideals. Gilbert is astonished to discover that although he can reel off the names of England's canals and list the major industries of each English town, most English people can't even find Jamaica on a map. ''How come England did not know me?'' he asks. Hortense's training as a teacher counts for nothing in England, and while she may have won a prize for reciting Keats's ''Ode to a Nightingale'' at school, she can't make herself understood by a London taxi driver.

Levy understands the complex relationship between color and class. Light-skinned Hortense has been brought up as a lady, and she initially despises Gilbert for his coarser manners. She also looks down on Queenie for being less educated than she is. The slow development of Hortense's respect for her husband as she begins to understand the challenges he faces (many of which she will confront herself) is one of the most moving aspects of the book. ''Small Island'' is too thoughtful a novel to promise its characters a happy ending, but it is generous enough to offer them hope.
added by kidzdoc | editNew York Times, Fatema Ahmed (Apr 3, 2005)
 
Small Island operates on a larger canvas than Levy's previous novels. Set in India, England and Jamaica, it is as far-reaching a work as White Teeth. Yet it is written in a plain, homely style, one that is keen for us to attend to the subtle shifts and twists that its characters undergo. Levy undercuts any assumption that race alone defines them, and is keen to highlight those symmetries and parallels in their life experiences. One can easily see it being turned into a popular drama. It's neither splashy nor experimental, but for thoughtfulness and wry humour cannot be faulted.
added by kidzdoc | editTelegraph, Sukhdev Sandhu (Feb 24, 2004)
 
Apart from everything else, 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, skillful, thoughtful and important. This is Andrea Levy's big book.
added by kidzdoc | editGuardian, Mike Phillips (Feb 14, 2004)
 
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Epigraph
Never in the field of human conflicts has so much been owed by so many to so few - Winston Churchill
Dedication
For Bill
First words
I thought I’d been to Africa.
Quotations
If a body in its beauty is the work of God then this hideous predicament between his legs was without doubt the work of the devil.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312424671, Paperback)

Andrea Levy's award-winning novel, Small Island, deftly brings two bleak families into crisp focus. First a Jamaican family, including the well-intentioned Gilbert, who can never manage to say or do exactly the right thing; Romeo Michael, who leaves a wake of women in his path; and finally, Hortense, whose primness belies her huge ambition to become English in every way possible. The other unhappy family is English, starting with Queenie, who escapes the drudgery of being a butcher's daughter only to marry a dull banker. As the chapters reverse chronology and the two groups collide and finally mesh, the book unfolds through time like a photo album, and Levy captures the struggle between class, race, and sex with a humor and tenderness that is both authentic and bracing. The book is cinematic in the best way--lighting up London's bombed-out houses and wartime existence with clarity and verve while never losing her character's voice or story. --Meg Halverson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:08 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Returning to England after the war Gilbert Joseph is treated very differently now that he is no longer in an RAF uniform. Joined by his wife Hortense, he rekindles a friendship with Queenie who takes in Jamaican lodgers. Can their dreams of a better life in England overcome the prejudice they face?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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