2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Small Island (Paperback)
From a novel writing point of view Small Island is a classic. The key element of a novel is characterisation, and Andrea Levy excels herself here. Four `first person' accounts of events occurring in Jamaica, Britain and India, illustrating the random fall-out of war. Ms Levy's `voices' rung authentically and she appeared as capable in rendering idiosyncratic Jamaican as she was with RAF 'squaddie'. She also dealt convincingly with basic realities - the reality of war (the randomness of death and destruction) and the reality of attitudes (racist bigotry) in a most uncompromising way. This made for uncomfortable reading, to the extent that there were times when I was longing for someone to show a mere flicker of a hint of the milk of human kindness (someone, perhaps, with an English accent). In this way she showed admirable discipline as a writer, with only an occasional nod towards a more common understanding of the plight of others (Jamaicans and bombed out 'cockneys' alike), and, when she could have ameliorated the response of an out-and-out bigot, she created a humorous post-script (suggesting 'once a bigot, always a bigot').
I loved the line (from Jamaican, Gilbert) 'I knew ... had put on a bit of weight but what an astonishment to find it was the type you could dress in a bonnet'. Yes, the humour was there, which was just about the only amelioration Ms Levy allowed in the whole of the novel. OK, there were tiny little achievements, rescued from larger defeats, that perhaps prevented the main characters from high-tailing it back to Jamaica (of course, had they done so, there would have been no Small Island). She also creates a most wonderfully ironic ending - not a 'happy ever after' ending, either, but one that fits the overall feel of the book admirably. Well worthy of the Orange prize and five stars from this reader.
I have read one of the more critical reviews (of which there are very, very few here)to the effect that Ms Levy over-loaded her 'Indian' account with too much research (I certainly wasn't aware of it), and also that there were certain inaccuracies in her descriptions. I can't speak authoritatively about India during the war, but I do know there was an RAF 'mutiny' along the lines she described. [It would be useful that, if a reader does find errors, he/she actually says what they are.]
In summary, a brilliantly written book that paints a less roseate picture of London during and immediately after WW2 than we have become accustomed to being presented with. Brilliantly characterised with authentic voices and written in the first person (which, I believe, is the most vital of all view-points).