Summary and book reviews of Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small Island

by Andrea Levy

Small Island
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 624 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2005, 448 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

A courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers.

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.

Told in these four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers---in short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant's life.

Twenty-nine
Queenie

It wasn't me. Mrs Queenie Bligh, she wasn't even there. This woman was a beauty -- he couldn't get enough of her. He liked the downy softness of the blonde hairs on her legs. Her nipples were the pinkest he'd ever seen. Her throat -- he just had to kiss her throat. This woman was as sexy as any starlet on a silver screen. The zebra of their legs twined and untwined together on the bed. Her hands, pale as a ghost's, caressed every part of his nut-brown skin. She was so desirable he polished her with hot breath -- his tongue lapping between her legs like a cat with cream. It wasn't me. This woman watching his buttocks rise and fall sucked at every finger on his hand. She clawed his back and cried out until his mouth lowering down filled hers with his eager tongue. It wasn't me. This woman ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Small Island are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this novel. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Small Island.


About This Book

Winner of the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction

Set largely in England during and soon after WWII, Andrea Levy's award-winning debut novel Small Island is about four different people at a time of profound social upheaval: Queenie, the spoiled blonde daughter of a British butcher; her husband Bernard, the repressed working-class ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Washington Post Book World

Small Island is free of the prosaic affectations that are often the hallmark of celebrated authorship; there are no postmodern pyrotechnics or other gimmicky hoops to jump through. Rather, Levy tells a good story, and she tells it well....Small Island's temporal dynamics and the artfully choreographed connections among the various first-person voices propel the reader forward through differing perspectives and revelations. One possible flaw is that the novel turns on a huge coincidence, which some readers may find too forced, too sentimentally contrived. Granted, this is a well-worn device with its near-Dickensian reliance on the mechanics of plot, but how better, perhaps, to imagine and unpack the complex interlocutions of a wide world writ small?

Kirkus Reviews

An enthralling tour de force that animates a chapter in the history of empire. This is Levy's fourth novel, but first U.S. publication.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. None of the characters is perfectly sympathetic, but all are achingly human.

Reader Reviews

Grandpa Phil

Missing Piece
Levy makes so much of the photos, from the beginning to the end. One photo is of Michael in Jamaica. He gave it to Queenie. At the end, his son shows in the family photo album a picture of Queenie. The photo of his father would be as important to ...   Read More

Elizabeth

Historical and keeps your interest
Small Island begins with a chapter about Post-War London and Hortense, a Jamaican bride, arriving in London to meet her husband whom she married but hasn't seen for six months. The reunion is quite a tale. The book brings to light how immigrants ...   Read More

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