Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Book Review: The Long Song - Andrea Levy

Synopsis - Told in the irresistibly wilful and intimate voice of Miss July, with some editorial assistance from her son, Thomas, The Long Song is at once defiant, funny, and shocking. The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation, July lives with her mother until Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow, decides to move her into the great house and rename her “Marguerite.”

Resourceful and mischievous, July soon becomes indispensable to her mistress. Together they live through the bloody Baptist war, followed by the violent and chaotic end of slavery. Taught to read and write so that she can help her mistress run the business, July remains bound to the plantation despite her “freedom.” It is the arrival of a young English overseer, Robert Goodwin, that will dramatically change life in the great house for both July and her mistress. Prompted and provoked by her son’s persistent questioning, July’s resilience and heartbreak are gradually revealed in this extraordinarily powerful story of slavery, revolution, freedom, and love.  (Taken from Goodreads)

Review - The Long Song is a highly acclaimed novel and on every reading groups list, however I will not be offering this book to my group.

The book is written in the voice of 'Miss July' a slave on a sugar plantation in Jamaica.  I prefer to read in plain narrative and found the dialect off putting, particularly in the beginning.  The story was slow to burn and it was with perseverence that I carried on with the book, although it did improve during the latter half.  The story started in the present day with July being encouraged to write her story by her son, Thomas Kinsman.  However the book jumped about from present to past and did not always join up immediately where it left off.  I found this rather disconcerting and it did detract from the story itself.  However, I think Ms Levy made  the right choice in writing the book in July's voice, it certainly made the story more real.

I find it quite difficult to read about slavery and the oppression of the black people.  I feel ashamed to have come from a white race that could treat fellow human beings so disgracefully.  I hasten to add that my own ancestors were not colonials or involved in slavery.  God's creatures or products of evolution, all are entitled to be treated with the same amount of dignity and respect.  Our history is not pleasant, we were a shamefully savage lot.  I have read a few books recently concerning oppression and maybe this was one too many.  2*

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