Small Island by Andrea Levy

This book is everything you’ve heard about it and more! Set mainly in 1948, in the wake of war and a transitional period of England’s history, Levy examines migration, empire, love and relationships with humour and skill in Small Island. Exploring the lives of Queenie, Hortense, Gilbert and Bernard, the narrative is split into four monologues, switching back and forth between the four protagonists. Whilst this may seem confusing to some, Levy’s handling of the narrative (and indeed, the book) is spirited and engaging. Each part is absorbing, but for me the book’s female characters, Queenie and Hortense, really stand out as fully formed, flawed yet lovable characters. Hortense in particular is haughty and funny, she says of Queenie “Could this woman not see this coat was not only ugly but too small for her?..and she look on me distasteful up and down. I was dressed as a woman such as I should be.. My coat clean, my gloves freshly washed and a hat upon my head…And yet it was she, this young Englishwoman..dressed in a scruffy housecoat.”
Levy’s attention to detail in this story is striking, but not overwhelming and her colloquial use of language feels natural, accelerating the progression of reading. Her writing is transformative, thrusting the reader into the midst of the action, whether it be England, Jamaica or India, with ease. I loved this book and revisit it often. We don’t have many writers like Levy on this side of the pond and novels like this are a rare treat. Levy deals with many ‘post- colonial themes’ in this book with subtlety and deftness, but forget those for now. This is a book about humanity, interweaving honest characters with an impressive plot and that’s why for me, Small Island packs a big punch.


  1. Thanks to your review, I am reminded that I have a copy of Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon on my bookshelves. I had forgotten all about it as it was given to me by my father in (le gasp!) 2006. I was always putting off reading it for some reason. It’s the novel she wrote prior to Small Island so I’m interested to see what her writing pre-Small Island is like.

    Good to know that Small Island is fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

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