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184 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutal but ultimately uplifting story
Despite the serious and at times harrowing subject matter, this book was a joy to read. Levy has created a wonderful character in the sassy, spirited Miss July, who narrates the story of her birth in a sugar-cane field and her childhood as a slave to the twittering, pompous plantation owner, Caroline Mortimer.

Her story is heartbreaking, but the touches of...
Published on 14 Feb 2010 by Denise4891

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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I had read and heard a lot of positive things about this novel before I bought it, and I was intrigued to see what Levy had to say about slavery, as well as the fact that reviews I had read indicated that she had a fresh approach and a lyrical way with words on the subject. I was hopeful that this book would be truly wonderful. I have to say that I was...
Published on 11 Mar 2011 by Mrs. K. A. Wheatley


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184 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutal but ultimately uplifting story, 14 Feb 2010
By 
Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Long Song (Hardcover)
Despite the serious and at times harrowing subject matter, this book was a joy to read. Levy has created a wonderful character in the sassy, spirited Miss July, who narrates the story of her birth in a sugar-cane field and her childhood as a slave to the twittering, pompous plantation owner, Caroline Mortimer.

Her story is heartbreaking, but the touches of humour and pathos give the book a lighter feel than, for example, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, or Beloved by Toni Morrison. However, Levy doesn't shy away from portraying the savage brutality of slavery and the ignorance of the white settlers, who treat the slaves as commodities to be bought and sold (and the the case of the women, raped).

This is my fifth Andrea Levy book and I've enjoyed them all. Her first three concentrated on the experiences of young black women growing up in modern Britain, but Small Island and now The Long Song have seen her reaching back into black history and creating some wonderful stories. It would be wrong to pigeon-hole her as a writer who only deals with 'black' issues though, because her themes and characters have relevance and appeal right across the board.
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140 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 300 years of human cruelty told in brutal honesty, 4 Feb 2010
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This review is from: The Long Song (Hardcover)
What a fantastic book that illustrates the cruel devastation that was the THREE HUNDRED YEAR OLD slave trade. Not since "Roots" has anything so moving been written. Three hundred years of beatings, unpaid back breaking work, women raped and impregnated by their massa's, pregnant women having to continue working in cane fields, giving birth in the very same cane fields and minutes later resuming work (their very survival depended on it), children ripped from their mothers and sold to other massa's. Grown men being beaten by their white massa's (male and female) and women abused by their massa's in front of their men folk - this is how the story opens and it must be said as it sets the scene for the rest of the story.

In spite of the brutality, the book highlights the sheer strength and defiance of the slaves. It is based around the story of a woman called July, who was born a slave on Amity plantation and lives through the turbulent years that led to its abolition. By page 95 things start to change but the struggle continues. The book is heartbreaking especially when you read how the light skinned slaves were fortunate enough to work in the house instead of the fields and the prejudice and ignorance amongst them that comes through. Although they were often the product of rapes, they saw their light colour as an advantage. The author also has the amazing ability to intersperse the story with funny events. I found myself howling with laughter to the point of tears as I read it on my way to work.

I salute Andrea Levy. I've read all of her books and all of them have touched me. As someone who is descended from slaves (my parents are Jamaican) it is particularly poignant and touching. The slave trade like the many stories of war, human cruelty and genocide should never be forgotten. Slaves were forbidden from reading and writing so those that could have documented their story are now long gone and there were no videos and cameras around to capture these stories. Nonetheless, it is a very important era in world history, it's reach was far and wide. I personally believe that much of the societal afflictions prevalent in African Caribbean and African American cultures today (particularly around relationships and family structure) are as a direct result of slavery, this is my own opinion and observation but when all is said and done, that's a different story altogether.

The book cuts deep but the author does an amazing job of keeping the reader gripped from the very first page. Absolute work of art !!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant characters, shocking but uplifting!, 2 July 2011
By 
This review is from: The Long Song (Paperback)
I loved Small Island and this is the second Andrea Levy novel I have read - I loved this too!
A great insight into the age of slavery and a great story too. Miss July is a very memorable character that you feel you know and deeply care about.
I couldn't put this book down and read it from start to finish in about 4 days, which for me is fast!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 23 April 2011
By 
J. Thomas "Lost&Found" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Long Song (Paperback)
Every now and then, you may come across a book that stays with you long after you read the last page. This is one such book.

It does not need a lengthy review; the five stars speak for themselves. I am just so very glad I stumbled across this book and this author.

It is quite simply a breathtaking, heart-breaking and unforgettable book.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply a delight..., 7 Oct 2010
By 
Boot-Boy (Gloucestershire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Long Song (Hardcover)
The Long Song is the latest of Andrea Levy's books but the first that I have read. Having finished it, all I want to do is get hold of everything that Miss Levy has written. The Long Song is simply a delight, the life and times of the canny, cunning and beguilingly cantankerous Miss July, a hearty if sometimes harrowing recounting of the last years of slavery in Jamaica. A busy schedule meant that I took more than a month to finish a little more than three hundred pages. But even if I had had the time to read, I would have delayed as much as I could - just to spread the pleasure of listening to a unique voice, telling a mesmerising tale. Really, a very good book indeed, a wonderful story highly recommended.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy the hardback!, 27 Feb 2010
By 
Diane (Sheffield England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Long Song (Hardcover)
This book is beautifully presented and well worth the cost of the hardback.
The story is stunning. As with all of Andrea Levy's books the sense of a shared humanity runs through the story with the characters seeming very real and a balance of horrendous events and moments of humour. As with all good novels it is extremely hard to leave behind when you finish reading. I loved the fact that the story was written from the point of the view of the main protaganist many years after the events and the interplay between July and her son which link the different sections of the story give the narrative a feel of a retelling of real events rather than a novel. I was left wondering what had happened to July's daughter and would love to read her story! I can't recommend it highly enough.
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50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Long Song, 9 Aug 2010
By 
TomCat (Cardiff, Wales.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Long Song (Hardcover)
This review is quite long, but there's a lot to talk about, so please forgive its length:

As I read this book, I could almost hear the salivating of educationalists up and down the country. 'The Long Song' is destined for the A-Level English Literature syllabus. I don't say this in disparagement or praise, merely in prophecy; for The Long Song occupies a comfortable middle-ground of modern Black writing. It's not as literary or challenging as Toni Morrison's genius masterwork 'Beloved', but it's not as educationally dense as Henry Louis Gates' 'Classic Slave Narratives'. It would sit well with 'The Colour Purple' or 'To Kill a Mockingbird' upon the bookshelves of the school library. The Long Song has all the facets of modern writing that the architects of the current English syllabi seem to value so much: a minority voice, historical realism, controversial scenes of rape and, most importantly, a simple story arc that travels from innocence to redemption via suffering and loss.

But I don't want to be too reductive in my review of this novel. Indeed, when I discovered that 'The Long Song' is a book about slavery, sisterhood, racism and rape, part of me groaned as I anticipated yet another addition to the overloaded slave-narrative genre - a genre that is veering dangerously close to cliché and self-parody. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the book; it isn't the pinnacle of its oeuvre, but it's a solid, well-written and moving effort.

'The Long Song' is narrated by July; an eighty-year-old former slave who worked on the Jamaican cane plantations. July is coerced by her son, a renowned printer, to write down her life's story - particularly her early years of slavery during the Baptist War of the Eighteen-Thirties. July narrates in the first-person singular. However, Andrea Levy's approach to this narrator is very unusual - July only speaks in the first-person when employing the present tense. When she is recounting her experience as a slave, she changes narratorial register and refers to herself in the third person. Thus the novel gives the impression that it has two narrators, when in fact there's only one - a narrator who constantly changes the pronoun direction of her narrative voice: using first-person for the present-tense, but third-person for the past-tense.

Thus 'The Long Song' employs that ever-so-trendy device of inter-textual revelation, whereby the novel you are reading is, supposedly, a biography written by one of its own characters - The Long Song even includes a fake afterword that's "written" by July's son, Thomas. I have several problems with this technique; firstly, it's a ubiquitous trick in the modern literary zeitgeist: it's just everywhere (see: 'Atonement', 'The Museum of Innocence', 'If on a Winter's Night a Traveller', 'Birdsong' or 'City of Glass' - to name just a few examples). Secondly, I think it's a rather lazy way of attributing a sense of textual authority and literary depth to a novel. Thirdly, the illusion is entirely unsustainable, as the name `Andrea Levy' (or Orhan Pamuk, or Paul Auster, or whoever) is printed on the front of the novel, reinforcing a sense of artifice and deconstructing the intended chimera: that this is a genuine history written down by one of its survivors.

This may be cynical of me, but it seems that this kind of inter-textual game is just the easiest way to add narrative complexity to a novel - 'The Long Song' fictionalises the story of its own creation, but in a pointless way. There's even a linguistic obsession for ripped paper and spilt ink. Don't miss-understand me; I do appreciate novels with intricate narratorial layers, but this particular technique ("oh look, the book I'm reading is a novel within the novel") is so over-used by modern writers that it's become completely tedious. However, the 18th Century-esque woodcut cover design of this particular book is a nice little touch.

Clichéd novel-within-a-novel ideas aside, The Long Song is beautifully, beautifully written. Levy employs an effective blend of standardised spelling with dialectic direct speech; for example, in this first-chapter scene of child-birth:

The pain was jumbie-made; its claws were digging deep inside her so this child might be born:
"Oh me must dead massa" Kitty roared, "me must dead!"
"Your pickney soon come now" Rose whispered.

Every sentence is well-balanced, imaginatively formed and beautifully expressed: there's not a word wasted or out-of-place in 'The Long Song'. This really is a linguistically impressive novel.

This book also achieves a striking convergence of the tragic with the comic. There are scenes of heart-rending despair that are so powerful that I had to put the book down and contemplate their impact before continuing. One such moment forms the opening of the novel; when nine-year-old July is taken from her mother by a white woman, because this rich, white land-owner fancies July as a pet to serve her about the house. July never sees her mother again. It's powerful stuff, made even more so by the wonderfully emotive writing.

But, as I say, it's not all dower; parts of the novel are raucously funny. When all the white members of the plantation house-hold leave the mansion to put down a riot, the remaining black slaves put on a hilarious lord-of-the-manner charade; treating each other like servants, demanding "more wine" and addressing each other as "dirty slaves" in mockery of their white masters.

The first-half of the novel is intense, well-plotted and builds and builds to an event of catastrophic significance (the Jamaican abolitionist riots of 1831). The second-half, by comparison, is messy, lacks pace and even attempts an insipid love story. It's a great shame - had the first 150 pages been expanded to form a full-length novel, it would be an almost perfect literary achievement; instead, the drama and tension, pathos and impact of the first-half is somewhat undermined by the much-less interesting second part.

I'd like to make a few final points about the themes of the novel. 'The Long Song' gives a harrowing account of slavery, details the traumas of rape and poverty and the discomforts of the period. This is partly achieved through a linguistic fetishism for bodily functions and fluids; barely a page goes by without explicit mention of menstrual blood, breast milk, semen, spit, mucus, faeces, urine, sweat and tears. It's a powerful act of synaesthesia, but somewhat over-played by Levy. I'm not quite sure why Levy felt a need to draw such repetitive attention to the physical processes of the body. I suppose it gives a sense of gritty realism, and it contrasts the physical, bodily duties of the slaves with the luxurious lifestyle of the so-called white plantocracy - but as a stylistic trait, this insistence on bodily functions is too monotonous. Almost every conversation begins with a reminder that the speakers have "renk breath" and "dirt-encrusted nostrils". I think that such statements would have greater impact if they were used more sparingly.

In summary, 'The Long Song' is a good novel. It's not without its flaws - but the writing is accomplished, the characters are very well conceived and the subject matter is powerful, gripping and kept me interested. There is a lot of this sort of slave-narrative fiction floating about these days, but 'The Long Song' is one of the better examples. I would recommend it; even if you find the plot and pacing to be a bit messy, you should enjoy basking in the beauty of Levy's writing, in the charming comic scenes and the harrowing moments of tragedy. Just don't pay too much heed to the novel-within-a-novel trope. If I'm honest, most of what I've listed as "flaws" in the book are really just irritations to my own taste, and are not objective failings. I still believe that 'The Long Song' will make its way into the school Literature syllabi within ten years; if only because the subject matter and characters are eminently and easily study-able. It's the sort of book that is very much en-vogue with the current assemblage of exam-setters. It may even become one of those odd modern-classics; a memorable novel that strikes a chord with the public despite its few short-comings.

So, all that remains is for you to turn your papers over, read the questions carefully and decide whether or not you want to want to invest in this novel for yourself. Remember to show your workings.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A humane and uplifting book...., 1 April 2010
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Long Song (Audio CD)
Andrea Levy's latest book is a joy! An old Jamaican woman, July, recounts her life at the behest of her son. She tells of her childhood on the Amity plantation, of slave uprisings and how slavery ended. We learn about how she was conceived, how she became separated from her mother and about her life as a house slave. We are not spared the cruelties of the slave-owners and their disregard for the people in their possession. There are some truly horrific episodes described in a direct and matter-of-fact way. But what makes the narrative so impressive is how the character of July shines through. She often addresses the reader directly and tells us that she thinks we now know enough about what happened. She also complains constantly about her son (whom she obviously adores) - she says that he forgets to bring her new writing supplies and sometimes criticises what she has produced. In this way the reader learns that July sometimes embroiders her story and tells it as she would have liked it to happen.

It goes without saying that the whole slavery industry in the West Indies was cruel in the extreme and the ill effects of it remain to this day. But this is no "misery memoir". The slaves themselves learn to be overtly submissive but all the time they are scoring small victories..... bottles of rum are stolen, buttons from the mistress's blouse are pocketed and instructions to use the best Irish linen tablecloth are ignored (and a stained bed-sheet is used instead!) Levy doesn't shirk from some of the unpleasant truths. Lighter skinned slaves (usually occurring following a rape) feel superior to their dark skinned fellows. ("Me no n*****, me a mulatto!")

The audiobook was lovely to listen to. Adrian Lester (as her son) reads the first and last chapter and the rest is narrated by Andrea Levy. Quite unusual for an author to read their own book but she is magnificent - and made me wonder if she had done any acting.

A humane and uplifting book - highly recommended.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must, 7 Feb 2011
By 
Yeti (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Long Song (Hardcover)
A must read for everyone. Everyone should know what is was like in the time when slavery was considered "normal" and the slaves were considered to be a lower form of life. Andea Levy is an excellent writer, and I thank her for enlightening me with this wonderful book!
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 11 Mar 2011
By 
Mrs. K. A. Wheatley "katywheatley" (Leicester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Long Song (Paperback)
I had read and heard a lot of positive things about this novel before I bought it, and I was intrigued to see what Levy had to say about slavery, as well as the fact that reviews I had read indicated that she had a fresh approach and a lyrical way with words on the subject. I was hopeful that this book would be truly wonderful. I have to say that I was disappointed.

I thought the story was good, and the subject matter enhanced by the way Levy chose to approach it. Rather than the usual 'slavery is terrible' novels (which it is by the way, I'm not disagreeing with the sentiment at all), this is an attempt to give a much more rounded view of the situation. Levy focuses on the life of an 'ordinary' slave girl, July, and those around her. She is interested in the domestic life of the people, and how the bigger events which eventually led to the abolition of slavery, actually affected the people on the ground, as it were. I liked the fact that she attempted to show the effects of slavery on every life, old and young, black and white, rather than through a very narrow lens.

I really didn't like the way the book was written though. I thought July's narration was affected, too stylised in places and indifferent in others. I hated all the winks and gestures to the reader, a la Jane Eyre, and I really hated the stop and start nature of the narrative. The episodes where July's son interferes with what she is writing and she takes time out from the story to berate him, or offer us a lesson or comment on her wish to give herself a happy ending all really grated with me, and totally broke up what could have been an utterly absorbing story.
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The Long Song
The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Paperback - 6 Jan 2011)
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