Metafiction & Unreliable Narrators: Background information when reading The Long Song

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Long Song

A Novel

by Andrea Levy

The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2010, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Metafiction & Unreliable Narrators

Print Review

What is Metafiction?
It depends on whom you ask, as the term is somewhat slippery, meaning that various authors and literary critics define it differently. William H. Gass coined the term in 1970 in an essay entitled "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction". Commenting on American fiction of the 1960s, Gass pointed out that a new term was needed for the emerging genre of experimental texts that openly broke with the tradition of literary realism still dominant in post-WW II American literature. Metafiction is thus an elastic concept covering a wide range of fictions.

John Barth (Lost in the Funhouse), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale), Kurt Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions), A. S. Byatt (Possession) and Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children) are a few authors who have either claimed to write in a metafictional style or were viewed that way by critics and literary theorists.

In The Long Song, a woman is writing a book about Miss July, the slave. That woman turns out to be Miss July herself and she periodically comments on her experience of writing the story with her son looking over her shoulder as editor. This device on Andrea Levy's part qualifies as an example of metafiction, which can include the writer intruding to comment on writing, directly addressing the reader. One or two critics found this distracting but I saw it as an entertaining way of showing how far Miss July had come in her life from slave to free woman.


What is An Unreliable Narrator?
An unreliable narrator is defined as an imaginary storyteller or character who describes what he witnesses accurately, but misinterprets those events because of faulty perception, personal bias, or limited understanding. The discrepancy between the unreliable narrator's view of events and the view that readers suspect to be more accurate creates a sense of irony.

A common unreliable narrator is a child, such as Huck Finn, David Copperfield, or Holden Caulfield, who are not in complete possession of the facts but tell the reader more than they understand precisely because they don't understand.

As it becomes apparent that the "writer" of Miss July's story is the character herself, the reader of The Long Song becomes aware that he or she is learning the history of slavery in Jamaica from a radically different viewpoint than can be found in history books, because our narrator interprets the actions of white masters and mistresses, of overseers, even of free Negroes, from a point of view which is naturally limited by her perspective and limited knowledge of wider events.

Article by Judy Krueger

This article was originally published in May 2010, and has been updated for the April 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...
  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
  • Book Jacket: Havana
    Havana
    by Mark Kurlansky
    History with flavor...culture with spice...language with gusto...it would be hard to find a better ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    No One Is Coming to Save Us
    by Stephanie Powell Watts

    One of Entertainment Weekly, Nylon and Elle's most anticipated books of 2017.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is staggering.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -