Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Booker Dozen 2010: The Long Song by Andrea Levy

The Long Song: A Novel
The backstory: The Long Song was on both the Orange and Booker Prize longlists this year (it has since been shortlisted for the Booker Prize). I was surprised when it didn't make the Orange Prize shortlist this year because Andrea Levy is such a literary superstar. I put my Orange Prize longlist reading (13 novels remaining) on hold to tackle the Booker Prize longlist, but this one counts for both!

The basics: The novel opens with a forward from the narrator's son. The Long Song is the story of July, who was born to a slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation in the early 1800's. As a child, she's taken into the main house to become a house servant.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. July is a delightful narrator. She interjects to address the reader directly at times, but instead of detracting from the narrative, these direct interactions enhance it. July brings a lightness and humor to her story that cheered me on as a reader. Despite living through the horror of slavery and the Jamaican slave rebellion of 1832, the reader always knows July gets to a place and time to write the story we're reading. Despite the somewhat depressing setting, Levy does a wonderful job infusing life and likability into even the unlikable characters. There is nothing simple about her characterizations of people, even the slaveholders whose thoughts and actions seem unconscionable to my modern sensibilities. In fact, my favorite character was Catherine, who plucked July from her mother and brought her to live in the house and serve her.

The verdict: Recommended for almost everyone, but especially fans of multicultural fiction, historical fiction and literary fiction. It's both incredibly literary and incredibly accessible as a story, which is an all too rare combination. I'm eager to read Levy's other novels too.

Booker thoughts: The Long Song is the fourth (of thirteen) Booker longlist novels I've read. While it's my second favorite (after Room, of course), I'm not sure if it will make the shortlist. I think it's certainly shortlist-worthy, but I have an odd feeling it will be left off this shortlist as it was the Orange shortlist.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: April 27, 2010
Source: my local public library
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Other reviews:
Bibliophile by the Sea called it "a bittersweet novel with characters I eventually came to care about."
Farm Lane Books thought it was "a light entertaining read."
Savidge Reads says it's "a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors."

Have you read other Andrea Levy novels? Which one(s) should I read next?


  1. I've read very little about this one to this point, but you've certainly gotten my attention! And being a sucker for covers, I really like this one.

  2. Sounds like a winner (although I'm cheering for Room when it comes to the shortlist and the prize).

  3. I've been wanting to read this one for awhile! I am so glad it's living up to expectations!

  4. I gotta read this one. I loved (loved!) Small Island, so if you haven't read that one, you must! =)

    Why don't you think it will make the shortlist? It looks like whatever came after the "but I" is missing....?

  5. @Andi I think you would like this one. The cover is gorgeous!

    @softdrink I'm cheering for Room too (for the shortlist and the Prize), but I'd love to see this one make the shortlist too.

    @amused I hope you find time to read it. I'd love to discuss it with you!

    @Megan Thanks for catching my trail off! I corrected it. I have Small Island on my shelf, and I'm looking forward to it. I've heard it's better than The Long Song, so I'm glad I read this one first!

  6. I enjoyed reading The Long Song, but didn't think it was anywhere near as good as Small Island. I was very surprised to see it on the Booker longlist and would be quite shocked if it made the short list.

  7. I agree that it's both literary and tremendously accessible: a winning combination. It was the first of her novels that I read too (although I recognized her name immediately from past Orange lists) but it immediately earned her a place on my MRE (must-read everything) list; I've got Small Island near the top of the bedside stacks even now.

  8. @farmlanebooks I'm so glad to hear you liked Small Island so much more. I'm looking forward to reading it!


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