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4.2 out of 5 stars42
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 30 March 1999
Levy's first book is a masterpiece. The story is told by Angela Jacob, a young black woman, born and brought up on a council estate in England.
The chapters alternate between Angela's childhood - from the first time she has her hair straightened to her first experiences of avocado and pizza - and her grim present where her father is dying of cancer. The switch between memories of the man who brought her up, to the reality of a man desperate not to die, engulfs the reader in a maze of emotion. Mr Jacob's progress through the NHS of the late 60's and encounters with professionals who don't care, is heartbreaking. I kept telling myself that it couldn't possibly happen but then had to admit that it could.
Accounts of Angela's childhood tell us much of what it means to be black and British and to search for acceptance within a society that doesn't know how to define you.
"Every light in the House Burnin'" is a must for anyone regardless of colour or gender but might I suggest a box of tissues for the end?
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on 19 December 2005
I was so pleased with 'Small Island' that I have read all of Andrea's Levy's books and think this is the best. The characters and relationships are so real and relevant to anyone who has experienced an ordinary childhood in the 60s. Mr Jacobs' progress through the National Health Service was both dated and yet not dated, as I know from my experience of hospital visiting in recent years. I lost all sense of time whilst reading the second half of this book and cannot get it out of my mind. Splendid!
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on 19 January 2007
I had already read 'Small Island' and 'Never far from Nowhere' and enjoyed both of these books. But I have to say that, for me, 'Every Light in the House Burnin'' is the best so far. I've just finished it and, as I bought it from Amazon, felt the need give my thoughts here on this book. The style of dipping back to memories from the past and then coming back to the present worked so well. The author's memories of her childhood and schooldays (including the wonderful description of school dinners) had me at times smiling, laughing and sighing as my own memories were evoked. I suppose I could identify a lot with the main character as I spent my very early years on a council estate and also have a West Indian parent. I was gripped and, like an earier reviewer above, had to read the book in one sitting to find out what would happen. And I have to say that not many books actually make me cry - but the end of this one had the tears flowing freely. There's one line that goes something like: 'I placed my hand on his, the same hand I used to hold when I was crossing the road...' When you read this in context I believe it to be one of the most poignant, moving lines I've ever come across. A really good book.
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on 24 August 2005
I have just finished reading this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The most moving account of the love a daughter has for her father and the story of her growing up. It is told with such warmth, humour and love.
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on 9 February 2006
A well structured, well excuted book, set in three different decades and jumping from one to another seamlessly - generally a very difficult thing to achieve.
I found the book hilariously funny in places and tremendously sad in others and in the end was forced to read it in one sitting purely because I couldn't wait to find what happened next.
I very much look forward to reading more novels by this author.
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on 19 March 2008
Oh no, not another sorry-the-vacancy's-been-filled tale of immigrant woe in post-War Britain, I hear you say. Well, that certainly wasn't the case with Small Island, the deserved winner of the 2004 Orange Prize, an ambitious, even-handed and moving look at life for Jamaicans in Britain during the War. Nor is it with Every Light in the House Burnin', the story of a Caribbean family living in 1960s north London, whose plot centres on the slow physical demise of the patriarch, the narrator Angela's father. This touching story, an odyssey through the British health system, is intercut with anecdotal memories of Angela's childhood. Written in a strongly autobiographical tone the novel oozes charm, is sensitive and humorous, but lacks just a little in substance. The experiences of Angela and her family could almost be those of any respectable working-class family of that time. They didn't differ much from my own - with one striking exception: the hurtful name-calling, sadly part of the rites of passage for many non-white immigrants to the UK and their offspring during that era.
By the time that Andrea Levy had penned Small Island she had matured into a fine writer and that book remains one of the best to come out of the UK in recent years. This novel was early practice.
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This novel - Levy's first - is her semi-autobiographical acocunt of a couple, immigrants from Jamaica, bringing up their four English-born children on a council estate. The story is told by the youngest, Angela, and alternates between the story of her childhood and the slow death (from cancer) of her father, many years later.

The novel has all the warmth of Levy's later novels, and while there isn't a great deal of story, there doesn't need to be. Writing of this calibre doesn't require an exciting plot to keep it going; loveable characters, humour and emotion kept me gripped until the end of this delightful book. Dad always dresses in a suit for his work at the Post Office, and metes out punishments - sometimes qutie unjustifiably - to the children, who seem to take them in their stride. He does little on the domestic front, but always does the ironing. Mum, trained as a teacher back home, has to re-train to teach over here, and also looks after her family (this includes bizarre visits to the hairdresser's, to have all the girls' hair straightened). The two older girls, on the brink of adulthood, giggle and party and shock their father. Johnny, the only boy (and perhaps the one we get to know least) plays his part. But it is Angela who helps her mother towards the end; who tries to get hospice care for her father, watching in horror and bewilderment as he balloons out of recognition on his doses of steroids, and gradually loses all interest in the family around him as he moves towards the death that is inevitable, but about whose imminence no-one has been able to bring themselves to speak to him.

This book has everything I have come to expect from a novel by Angela Levy, and I loved it.
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on 30 June 2011
This is one of the few books that will live in my memory for a very long time.
I liked the way the story flowed from past to present with strong characters that gave depth to the story. The touches of humour were needed to lighten it at times, and yes I did shed tears of sadness. I have not written about the plot as this has already been well covered by previous reviewers.
Andrea's story telling is second to none and I have recommended her books to many of my friends.
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on 4 January 2007
Having read Small Island and found it tough going at times, I was slightly wary of attemting another of Andrea Levy's books. But I'm glad I did as this was a joy to read - beautifully written from both a child's and woman's point of view. As another reviewer, I read it in one sitting - highly recommend.
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VINE VOICEon 3 February 2011
This was an eye-opening revelation of the failings of the British National Health Service in the 1960's; the insensitivity and red tape that patients and loved ones had to struggle with. I'm glad to say I was too young to have first hand experience of this and can only hope that things have improved??
Interspersed with these heart-wrenching episodes are the revealing experiences of Angela (Anne) Jacobs, growing up a British Carribean immigrant in North London. She is strangely positioned between the British population and the African immigrants, being of lighter colour, but she experienced many of the same prejudices.

There were some great laugh-out-loud moments and some desperately sad ones too, a book full of raw emotion. The characters were wonderful - Angela's two teenage sisters immediately jump to mind.

Unfortunately the slightly sticatto nature of the early chapters detracted from this book and it was definitely 4* throughout until I hit the last few chapters which were just brilliant! I would love to have given it 4.5 stars. Not quite as good as Small Island but then this was Levy's first book and it certainly came a close second.
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