Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Long Song by Andrea Levy

I haven't read Andrea Levy's other book 'Small Island' which a lot of other bloggers have compared The Long Song to, so my thoughts on this novel are on this novel alone.

There are a lot of historical novels out there which feature slaves or slave owners as main characters and I've read a fair few myself. The Long Song instantly appealed to me for two reasons, firstly the novel is set in Jamaica, not America, and the slave owners in The Long Song are English. I honestly know far more about the Americas role in slavery than the English's despite being born in Bristol (a major slave port during the eighteenth century) so this novel contained a period of history I know relatively little about.

The novel is spoken in Jamaican English which helps to set the scene and is told by July as an old woman. July was born into slavery and was taken from her mother at a young age to work in her masters house. The novel follows her story as she comes into womanhood and it chronicles the drastic changes her life brings.

July, like many of her fellow slaves, is a survivor and The Long Song is not a tale of pure misery. Slavery is a tough subject to read and I am sure it goes without saying that the salves life's depicted in the novel is a cruel and brutal one yet among the tragic there is also humour and strength which shines through. Halfway through the novel the British outlaw Slavery which gives the story and the subject a new angle as the slaves and their masters struggles to adjust to becoming employees and employers.

One minor complaint is the narration which seems to divide reviewers. The older July is narrating the novel and aside from the fact that she seems to narrates sometimes on subjects she cannot possibly know, she also keeps interrupting the story to mostly argue with her son who is making her tell her story. By doing this the reader is made aware of July's strong personality still shining in old age despite all her hardships so I can understand completely why the novel was written in this way. But I did find it interrupted the flow of the story and I found it annoying.

Overall though its a fine book and one which I found enjoyable and surprisingly easy to read.

Posted by Jess


  1. I thought The Long Song was just ok, which was a disappointment because I LOVED Small Island. You definitely should read that one.

  2. I loved the way she caught the Jamican accent so well ,all the best stu

  3. I don't know very much about Britain's role in slavery either, so I'm intrigued by this. I think historical fiction is a great way to learn about time periods you know little about.

  4. I haven't managed to read either of Andrea Levy's books despite owning Small Island and borrowing this from the library more than once! I think I find them slightly intimidating, especially with the dialogue in this one; I often have a hard time with that. I'll have to reconsider, given you enjoyed it and found it relatively easy to read.

  5. What a coincidence, I just bought this book on Friday!

    I really would recommend Small Island, I read it last year and it was even better than I thought it would be.

  6. I enjoyed this, but like everyone else I thought Small Island was much better. Long Song was easy to read, but it didn't have that much impact on me.

  7. Suzanne - I will check out Smll Island. I have to admit that The Long Song doesnt make me want to go out and read her other books but Small Island comes so recommended that I think I will.

    winstonsdad sai- it was differcult to read in the beginning but it was needed to creat the sense of place I thought.

    Ash - it sure beats reading a history book ;)

    Meghan - from what Ive heard, Long song is easier to read but small island is much better - its a dilemia!

    Sam sai- its on my TBR list

    Jackie - the one thing that did surprise me is that it made the Booker shortlist as I did enjoy it but its not going to play on my mind if that makes sense.

  8. I really enjoyed this one too and was pleasantly surprised at what an easy read it was. I haven't read Small Island yet either, but I plan to this year and am looking forward to it.

  9. I read Small Island in 2007 and it rated highly amongst my reads for that year. Despite the varying opinions here I still want to read Long Island, thanks for the review Jess.