It seems that the years 2004 – 2008 were a dark period, reading wise. I went through a phase were I bought tons of books and gave up after reading ten pages or so. Funnily enough a lot of the books on this list are culled from that pile. Needless to say Small Island was one of those books I gave up on reading ten pages in. Trust me I am kicking myself for having left it unread for a good five years because it is a wonderful novel.
In essence the book is told through four people. Gilbert Joseph, an ex Jamaican RAF man who immigrates to Britain in order to find work and is faced with racism, his wife Hortense, who moves in with Gilbert after a few months, completely unaware of the racism that is dominant in Britain (this is during the post war era, 1948, to be more precise) , Queenie, an open minded working class woman and her husband Bernard, a quiet meek man who returns to his wife after a stint in India and finds out, much to his chagrin, That his wife is renting out his house to Jamaicans.
As one can guess Bernard is at loggerheads with the ‘darkies’ and thus starts a mini feud. However there is one twist in the plot which does change things a little bit (no spoilers here you’ll just have to read the book in order to find out). But this does not make the racism end. In fact the race problem does not get resolved, which Levy is insinuated that it still exists and white man will still think his skin colour affects his stature in life.
What Levy excels at is describing the way Gilbert and Hortense stick out in British society, from clothes to mannerisms. Despite the fact that Hortense tries her hardest in learning British ways she still is an outsider. Being an emmigrant myself I understand the difficulty in adapting to a new culture and keeping your identity at the same time.
What amazed me about the novel is it’s sheer readability. Small Island (refers to both Jamaica and Great Britain) is written in a flowing way that will consume the reader in a couple of sittings. Levy also does add humour to lighten up the rather weighty situation, which enhances the novel’s accessibility.
Again, like The Line of Beauty, I felt that this would be an A level book and a big production film in the near future. After some research on the ‘net I actually find out that both things will be happening. I guess that today (and a blog mention) that’s one of the highest accolades a book deserves and I have to admit it deserves it!