Book Reivew : Small Island, by Andrea Levy

This copy of Small Island had been laying around my house for a while. Last summer, or perhaps it was the one before, I decided to give it a read, but I only read a couple of pages. Honesty, I don’t know why I didn’t finish reading it. I’m glad that I gave it another go, because it is was enjoyable.

Small island is centred around four main characters: Mr and Mrs Bligh, Gilbert Joseph and Hortness (Gilbert’s wife ). Set in the horrific and grim scene of the Second World War, Levy beautifully presents the harsh experience of each character. Gilbert and Hortense are two Jamaicans who dream of escaping their homeland in hope of living a prosperous life in the Mother Land, England. But dreams can be deceiving, for when Gilbert and Hortness enter this foreign land, they learn that the Mother Country will not embrace them with kisses and hugs. Instead they will be hit with  the dim reality of desicated houses, rude stares,racism and discrimination. Mr and Mrs Bligh have their fair share of trouble. Lonely and starved of affection, Queenie finds comfort in Michael, an  African American G.I. This impulsive decision results in an outcome that effects that life of all the main characters.

A lot of giving and receiving takes place in this novel. Queenie’s neighbours do not approve of her Jamaican lodges, but I loved how this does not stop her from giving them a place to live. When Gilbert (he worked in the army) lodges at Queenie’s house, an unlikely friendship is formed ; but when her husband Bernard returns four years after the end of the war, their relationship becomes strained. Personally, I thought that Bernard was intimidated to find a random, black man in his home.

Levy has a gift for voices. I loved how she managed to switch between Queenie, Hornese, Gilbert, and Bernard. I felt like I knew every character so well.  But this doesn’t mean that I loved them all. It took me a while to appreciate Hortness. She was not my favourite but I admired her strength, independence and courage. When it came to Gilbert and Hortense I laughed, a lot. Queenie was interesting. But I thought that sometimes she was indifferent. With Bernard, Levy captured the strenuous impact of the war; Bernard’s sentences were short and blunt.

I liked that she switched between different time periods. Switching between the past and present really allowed Levy to depict the drastic impact of the war and to show us how the characters were drawn together to help, teach and learn from each other.

The repercussions of war can be terrible, and Levy does not try to mask this fact. But I think she reminds us that every negative circumstance can have some positive outcomes. I believe that, in one way or the other,  these characters needed each other. They gave each other the gift of friendship, kindness and hope.

I would recommend this book to anyone. It is not difficult to read, but if you’re a slow reader it may take a while. I won’t guarantee that you will like all the characters, at first I did not like Hortense, but that was because I didn’t take time to understand her. This book is a good read. You will laugh, you will feel irritated with some of the characters and sorry for others.


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