Monday 24 August 2015

The Long Song by Andrea Levy

4 out of 5 stars

The fact that a book is nominated for a Booker prize used to entice me a little. These days, not so much. I read a lot, but am no literary genius. I read to enjoy books. Maybe I am missing something, but when I go through the list of Booker Prize nominees and winners, very few books appeal to me, and of those I have read, only about half have I enjoyed.

This was a recommendation from Book Club, however. So, placing my thumb carefully over the “Shortlisted for a Booker Prize” sticker, I started.

I loved the narration style. Told in the first person, by the slave girl, July, Andrea Levy cleverly draws us in to her story with a foreword by her son, the editor, who paints a picture of his mother driving him mad with the telling of her story, until he persuades her to write it – reluctantly, since she began her life “as a person for whom writing the letters ABC could have seen her put to the lash”.

“But stay, if you wish to hear a tale of my making. As I write I have a cup of sweetened tea resting beside me…; the lamp is glowing sufficient to cast a light upon the paper in front of me, the window is open and a breeze is cooling upon my neck. But wait…for an annoying insect has decided to throw itself repeatedly against my lamp. Shooing will not remove it, for it believes the light is where salvation lies. But its insistent buzzing is distracting me. So I have just squashed it upon an open book. As soon as I have wiped its bloody carcass from the page (for it is in a volume that my son was reading), I will continue my tale.”

This strong voice sings and paints a vivid account of slavery’s last few years on the island of Jamaica, and the consequences of abolition on both the slave-owners and the slaves.

There is a good balance of intimacy and personal detail with the facts of history, although the history telling doesn’t always flow well. The shocking and horrific behaviour is countered with humour and optimism, bravery and stoicism. The characters come alive, and the language used is beautiful.

I felt like I had joined July, next to the light of the lamp, and listened to her gentle sadness – shocked by the brutality, yet uplifted by the humanity of the characters. The author succeeded in making this a very personal account.

Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780374192174

You may also enjoy my review of Lila by Marilynne Robinson or The Whip by Karen Kardashian.

Here are all my reviews and recommendations.

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