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.
Infinities of love,