Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: Small Island

Image credit: booksandreviews 
Small Island by Andrea Levy follows the story of two unconventional couples, one Jamaican and one English during WW2 and it’s aftermath. The year is 1948, and Queenie, whose husband Bernard is yet to return from his service in the war, is trying to make ends meet by renting out her upstairs rooms to Jamaican lodgers. Hortense, a prim and proper Jamaican woman has made the journey to England to be with her husband Gilbert, however she finds that the Motherland isn’t much like the grand, lovely England she had pictured in her mind. Both women have to find their way as the reality of their situations crush their big dreams. As their stories interweave, you are truly transported to another place and time.

I’m someone who has always been reluctant to read novels set in different eras due to the characters often being unlikeable and far too modern for their settings and not actually have much 'character' about them, or being too era-based for a modern reader to actually engage with. It is a tough balancing act for many writers, but the characters in this novel are charming, unique and thoroughly fascinating and didn’t lose my attention for even a page, despite the historic setting. This novel offers stories that are so heart wrenching and truthful about characters so interesting and colourful it is difficult not to adore it.

Benedict Cumberbatch* as Bernard in the BBC Mini-Series.  Source BBC

This novel was really eye opening for me in terms of the role that Jamaican soldiers played in the allies' war effort in WW2, and the racism that the early Jamaican immigrants faced in England. Although it is greatly a dramatic novel, it has many humorous moments. I saw the novel in a second hand bookshop a few weeks after seeing the mini-series on ABC, and I'm so glad I bought it. It's one of those books that has so much more within it's pages than it's filmic counterpart could include (minus that slightly tacky final flash forward to today scene, if you've seen it you know what I mean...).
Queenie (Ruth Wilson) and Michael (Ashley Walters) from the Mini Series. Source BBC
*Gave that bitch Benedict Cumberbatch. Bitches love Benedict Cumberbatch.

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