Over the course of five exceptional novels, Andrea Levy created a unique body of work, grounded by her background as the daughter of parents who had entered Britain aboard the Windrush. Levy explored this understanding through the medium of her novels, the first two - Every Light in the House Burnin′ and Never Far from Nowhere – reflecting very much the experience of Jamaican immigration in the 1960s and 1970s. Her third novel, Fruit of the Lemon, pushed the narrative forward, splitting the novel between England and Jamaica during the years of Margaret Thatcher. This story drew heavily on Levy’s personal experience (the central protagonist Faith Jackson an employee at the BBC, as Levy had been herself) and contained many parallels to the author’s own growing appreciation of her heritage.
It was though her 2004 novel Small Island that proved the breakthrough. Set in the shadow of the Second World War, Levy rounded on the tales of her parents’ generation, the characters of Gilbert, Michael and Hortense making their respective breaks from Jamaica – the “small island” of the title – in an effort to find economic liberation in England. The reality, however, does not match the dream. Small Island scored a brace of awards, including both the Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Women's Prize for Fiction) and Whitbread Book of the Year. What would sadly prove to be Levy’s final novel, The Long Song, was published in 2010, a book written in the form of memoir and rounding on a Jamaica emerging from slavery in the early 19th century.
Six Stories and an Essay, published in 2014, drew together the author’s shorter work. Andrea Levy passed in 2019.
‘Small Island is a great read, delivering the sort of pleasure which has been the traditional stock-in-trade of a long line of English novelists,’ noted the Guardian. ‘It's honest, skilful, thoughtful and important.’ Set as the embers of the Second World War slip into memory, Small Island brilliantly charts the drama of the Jamaican immigrant experience. Panoptically shuttling between four deftly-drawn characters, Levy describes a tale of compromised hopes, endemic racism, kindness and consequence, the novel winning a brace of awards including the Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Women's Prize for Fiction) and the Whitbread Book of the Year.
Books by Andrea Levy
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