Friday, September 12, 2014

BOOK NOOK: SMALL ISLAND BY ANDREA LEVY

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

I'm pleased to share an excellent book with you today--a book I love because it's beautifully written and character driven.

I first learned of Small Island when it was made into a mini-series and shown on Masterpiece Theater. The acting was so good. Then I found out it was a book. I had to order it.



Small island has more than one meaning in this book. During, and shortly after World War II, some Jamaicans leave their small island for the Mother Country of England. Although they think it is their Mother Country, England is--in its own way--a small island with many small-minded people.

Queenie Bligh is a kind-hearted Englishwoman who does not see color. She lacks prejudice. She is warm and welcoming to the Jamaicans who rent rooms from her. Queenie's husband Bernard went away during the war, and although it is now 1948, he has not returned.

Queenie has a brief sexual relationship with Michael Roberts, who is from Jamaica. Living in Queenie's home are Gilbert and Hortense, who do not know about Queenie's involvement with Michael. They are from Jamaica also, and are newlyweds. They don't know each other very well. Hortense, who is well educated and well raised, is appalled by the prejudice she faces in England. She believed England to be a land of good manners and certain niceties, but she is more articulate and polite than most of the English people she meets.

In this excerpt, Hortense speaks of her life in Jamaica and her desire to teach in an upper-class Jamaican school:

My dream was and always had been that I should find employment teaching at the Church of England school in Kingston, for it was there that light-skinned girls in pristine uniforms gathered to drink from he fountain of an English curriculum. But my interview for a position saw the head master of that school frowning, concerned not with my acquired qualifications but only with the facts of my upbringing. I evoked my father's cousins and told him of Lowell Roberts, my father, a man of character, a man of intelligence, noble in a way that made him a legend. The headmaster unwittingly shook his head as he asked me of my mother, my grandmother. His conclusions--although no word on the matter passed between us--was that my breeding was not legitimate enough for him to consider me worthy of standing in their elegant classrooms before their high-class girls.

Although Hortense cannot get a teaching job at the Church of England school in Jamaica, she is shocked when she can't get a teaching job in England itself. We see also from this excerpt that Hortense has her own prejudices before she arrives in England to join the man she has married.

Gilbert, on the other hand, is relaxed, but rather foolish when it comes to dealing with his new wife. Gilbert has already learned to accept that the English are prejudiced against the Jamaicans. Hortense is appalled by the bigotry--a bigotry seemingly shared by everyone except Queenie.

When Bernard finally returns home, his deep streak of prejudice mixes with Queenie's lack of hatred to create the climax.

Small Island earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Approval. Congratulations to Andrea Levy, who won multiple awards for this novel that was released in 2004.

I don't know if Small Island is available on DVD, but if it is, then I recommend watching it.

Happy Reading!


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug





36 comments:

  1. I've never heard of this one, but it sounds good and I love the quote.

    Lately, I've really been getting into the BBC and Masterpiece Theater. Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife make frequent appearances on the boob tube.

    Have yourself a lovely weekend, Ms. Janie.

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    1. I adore Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. I've read Jennifer Worth's books. They're very interesting. I like comparing the real stories with the way the stories are adapted for the TV show.

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  2. It seems as though it would be based on a true story, or a general story of many people, like the movie Prescious (which I think is also a book?).

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    1. Yes, Precious is a book. I've never read it. I'm sure that Small Island is based on real experiences people have had with racism.

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  3. Mrs. Shady and I are both fond of Masterpiece Theater and British comedies, dramas and mysteries. I will tell her about Small Island. Hopefully we can both read the book, watch the mini series and compare notes.

    Thank you for the book nook review, dear Janie, and have a safe and happy weekend!

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  4. Thanks for the review. I checked, and you can buy the DVD used at Amazon for around $9.00.

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    1. That's not a bad price. I haven't looked at the PBS page to see if they have it for sale, but I've noticed that their prices are usually higher than Amazon's.

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  5. I never heard of this book, but I will order it soon. A must read for me as I lived in London for two years 1959- 61 and first became aware of the ugliness of racism there. (Since there were just about only white Swedes in Sweden at the time, I really had never lived with it before.) So a must read for me, thanks Janie.

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    1. I'm glad you're interested in it, Ingrid. It's such a good book.

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  6. Thanks for the tip, Janie...I'll have to check on it!

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  7. This does seem like a great character driven story. I'll probably check it out.

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    1. I want to find some other books by Andrea Levy.

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  8. It sounds like a good book. I've never heard of the Orange Award. What's that?

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    1. It's a literary prize awarded annually to a female author in the UK.

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  9. Oh, awesome. I needed a good book to bury myself in this weekend!

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  10. I think, even beyond Jamaica, this is a story we can expect to be explored a lot more in the coming decades: the experience of colonial immigrants going back to England.

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  11. Interesting. I'd love to know why you say that.

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    1. Well, many of those immigrant populations from India, Africa, the West Indies and so on are in their second or third generations in England now. Increasingly, this is the story of modern Britain. The Commonwealth runs in both directions.

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  12. I find both cultures/worlds - Jamaican and English - fascinating and endearing. This definitely looks like a page turner.

    Have a nice weekend, JJ.

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    1. Thank you. I hope you have a nice weekend, as well.

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  13. Small island sounds like a novel I would thoroughly enjoy. And I have a vague suspicion that I may have seen part of the BBC drama. The characters looks awfully familiar ...

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    1. The book and mini-series are great. The mini-series lives up to the spirit of the book.

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  14. I am amazed by writers, the stories they tell, painting with words

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    1. You tell beautiful stories with your photographs.

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  15. This book sounds very interesting. Now I wonder why the husband had not returned home after the war...lol.

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  16. I'm just about to re-read this in case one of my sixth-formers chooses it for their coursework. I loved it first time round. I was at an event with Andrea Levy once - she had a story in an anthology of stories about London, and I had a story in it too, so I had to go to the book launch and she was there. She's a fabulous writer. She looked very glamorous so I dared not approach her, but I wish I had.

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    1. She was probably in awe of you and didn't dare approach. Two ships passing in the night . . .

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  17. Sounds interesting! And it won the Orange Prize--although I'm not sure what that is?

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    1. U.K. literary prize to a female author.

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