Small Island, by Andrea Levy
Published by Headline Review, 17th September 2009
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased (second-hand)
Trigger warnings: racism, discrimination
Gilbert Joseph joined the RAF during WWII, along with thousands of other Jamaicans, to fight for the “Mother Country”. Returning to England after the war, Gilbert finds a changed world and one in which his service to his mother country is not recognised or appreciated. In desperation, he turns to one of his only friends in England, Queenie Bligh. Queenie’s neighbours do not approve of her taking in Jamaican lodgers, but what else can she do?
Her husband has not returned from the war, even though it has been over for three years now. She is alone in a big house and needs the money. She also has a secret, one which makes her more inclined towards being kind to coloured people than most of her neighbours. Gilbert’s wife Hortense journeys from Jamaica to London, but is shocked by the squalor she finds instead of the golden city of her dreams. Her husband is also not the same man she remembers.
The war may be over, but at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun.
I really enjoyed this book. It is beautifully written with rich detail and some fabulously real characters. Having recently seen a National Theatre production of Small Island, I knew what to expect from the story. But it was something else to read it for myself and really picture the scenes and characters in my own mind.
I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives, with chapters from the various characters’ points of view. As well as the shifting timelines, from childhood to wartime and the present.
The Jamaican characters’ dialogue is written as they would speak, in their accent and with their colloquialisms. I really liked that the author made this choice, as it brought these characters to life in a really interesting way.
Small Island was adapted as a limited series by the BBC and I am now really interested to watch it and see if I enjoy it as much as I did the play and the book.
My rating: 4/5