Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

2004 Costa Winner

Small Island by Andrea Levy


Publisher: Headline Book Publishing/Picador USA

Length: 530 pages

About: Racial tensions in 1940s London

Style: 1st and 3rd person

Where: London, England

When: 1940s-1950s


Publisher’s synopsis:

Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer's daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.




I was brought up in a family with ten children. At that dinning table at home one lax moment and half my dinner could be gone to my neighbour. I learn to eat quickly whilst defending my plate with a protective arm. But with this English food I sat back, chewed slowly and willed my compatriots to thieve. I had not yet seen a war zone but if the enemy had been frying up some fish and dumpling whose knows which way I would point my gun.




What makes Levy's writing so appealing is her even-handedness. All her characters can be weak, hopeless, brave, good, bad - whatever their colour. As Kate Mosse, founder of the Orange Prize says: "People think it's only possible to be a black writer and be angry about black/white relations. But colour is invisible in Andrea's books. It's not about being black or white. We all exist in every shade of grey."

Marianne Brace, The Independent, 12th June 2004


Not so good:

If I have a complaint about the novel it is related to Levy's rigorous adherence to historical fact, which occasionally gives you the feeling that she has been so interested or moved by a particular incident that she's manoeuvred her characters into the right place at the right time. For instance, Gilbert and Queenie are involved in a wartime incident where the US army attempts to impose a segregated seating plan in a local cinema. Gilbert resists and sets off a riot in which Queenie's father-in-law is shot dead by American military policemen. The story is a truthful rendering of several recorded incidents, but in the context of the narrative it has an incongruously melodramatic feel.

Mike Phillips, The Guardian, 14th February 2004


About the author

Andrea Levy (born 1956) is an English author, born in London to Jamaican parents who sailed to England on the Empire Windrush in 1948

Andrea Levy is of primarily Afro-Jamaican descent. She has a Jewish paternal grandfather and a Scots maternal great-grandfather.

In her mid-twenties she did work for a social institution that included dealing with racist attacks. She also worked part-time in the BBC costume department, while starting a graphic design company with her husband Bill Mayblin. During this time she experienced a form of awakening to her identity concerning both her gender and her race. She also became aware of the power of books and began to read “excessively”: it was easy enough to find literature by black writers from the United States, but she could find very little literature from black writers in the United Kingdom.

Levy began writing only in her mid-thirties, having enrolled in Alison Fell's Creative Writing class at the City Lit in 1989, continuing on the course for seven years.



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2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

Extract from New York Times to view full article...

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