Category Archives: Andrea Levy

The Long Song – Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy’s latest novel ‘The Long Song’ is another book that I have had to give a little space to before I could write about it. Its been very interesting meeting lots of other bloggers over the last few days and finding that a lot of them leave a book a good day or two (or even a month or two) until they have digested it and then written about it. We were actually discussing how its interesting a book you read and think is ‘ok’ can sometimes be one of the books that you most remember a few months later. Oh, hang on I have gone off on a tangent…

‘The Long Song’ is a book about the slavery in Jamaica which we are told through an initially nameless narrator (who has written this book for her son is a publisher and thinks the tale should be told) a depiction of the life of a slave girl in the 1800’s. We follow July from her birth onwards through the trying times of her separation from her mother when Caroline Mortimer, not long arrived in Jamaica, decides she wants her as a pet pretty much, through the Baptist War in 1831 and onwards. I don’t want to give anything away other than to say it’s quite a journey because I do want to urge people to read this.

July is a wonderful character to follow all of this through the eyes of. From her very birth there is a drama and a determination around her which proceeds as she becomes a maid from the rich white people left to fend at the age of 9 for without her mother. Rather than become a victim, which would be understandable, she becomes a wily, spritely and rather rebellious young woman who knows how to get what she wants and get away with a heck of a lot. Levy doesn’t just create funny and heart-warming characters there are also ones who become villainous throughout the book. The aforementioned Caroline being one, her tale is that of a rich young woman forced to live with her brother who initially delights in Jamaica and all its ways before turning bitterly against it, she has a complexity to her that I liked though I didn’t like the character myself. She treats her staff poorly, beating them often, is spoilt and yet there is a naivety which comes from her breeding and place in society that’s oddly interesting to look at.

Slavery is always going to be a tough subject and yet the way Levy writes it both hits home the horrors of what took place, sometimes in quite graphic detail, and yet through her wonderful narrators voice there is a humour there. At first when I accidentally let a big laugh out on the tube I felt incredibly guilty, how awful of me to sit and laugh at a book about such a subject. It almost made me waver with the book slightly. However I put the book down for a day and thought about it and through the characters and the humour in their tales of trialling lives I think what Levy is doing is showing you the spirit that some of these people (I am writing about them as if they were real but they are drawn so very vividly you believe it all) had which only hits home the terrible situation to the reader even more.

I have seen some rather poorly received reviews of this book and I can’t help thinking it’s because of its predecessor. It’s hard to not compare this book with the wonderful, wonderful ‘Small Island’, which is an incredible book, yet to do so would be a disservice to this book, I do like to judge an author on each book they write. I could also mention its long listing for the Orange Prize (which I guessed it would – hoorah) but I think we all know the Longlist quite well by now. I do hope it gets shortlisted; I will leave it at that.

If you haven’t read any Levy then this is a great book to start with. If you have already had the pleasure then this book continues to show that Levy is a wonderful author who can take you to far away places with wonderful characters and make it all look effortless. It also has one of my favourite opening lines (have you all been keeping notes on yours) in quite some time. “The book you are now holding within your hand was born of a craving.” This is a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors.

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Books of 2010, Headline Review, Review

Books to Watch Out for in 2010

Last year I did a post on the books that I was looking forward to in 2009. This year I thought, along with my new slightly though not very much more minimal TBR, I would go with a more simplistic look at books I am looking forward to, rather than what might just be a big book everyone reads because its ‘the big book’ though if some of these are ‘the big book’ thats wonderful. I am just not sure if I will obtain or read them with this no buying malarkey (already its slightly vexing me and we are on day five) but you can run out and get them you lucky so and so’s. I digress. They might be big hits they might not, I am just really, really excited about these particular forthcoming books in 2010…

First up is women’s fiction and I am incredibly excited about one of my favourite authors (who is also a lovely lady) who is bringing what looks to be a wonderful Byzantine epic of a novel about an ‘actress, empress, whore’. It also happens to have what I already think is one of the most delightful book covers of 2010. I am talking about the delightful Stella Duffy and her latest novel ‘Theodora’. Its one of the books I am very excited about. Other female novelists who have big literary books out I am looking forward to are… Andrea Levy with ‘The Long Song’  which is all about the last years of slavery in Jamaica, I am hoping this leaves me as breathless as ‘Small Island’ which blew me away last year. Xiaolu Guo with ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ which I think is a brilliant title and sounds like it could be a collection of tales rather than a novel.

Women also seem to be writing the crime I like the look of this year and I want to read more crime even if it’s not the latest releases ba-humbug this year. Sophie Hannah brings us her latest crime escapade with the intriguingly titled ‘A Room Swept White’. This alredy sounds like it will be another of Hannah’s brilliantly twisting plots as a TV producer is given a card sender anonymous with sixteen digits on it, and soon a woman the producer is making a documentary about is found dead with an identical card in her pocket even down to the sixteen digits.  Susan Hill’s enigmatic detective Simon Serrailler is back for his fifth outing looking at the murders of prostitutes in ‘The Shadows in the Street’s’. Finally in crime due out in autumn, which means if by luck one falls out of the sky and lands on my doorstep it’s still a long blooming wait, is another of the books I am most excited about… ‘Started Early, Took The Dog’ is the fourth instalment of my favourite series of books ever featuring Jackson Brodie by Kate Atkinson. The bonus with it being so late in the year is it won’t lead me into temptation and can go on a Christmas list of be bought in January 2011.

Now for the men of fiction. I think another of the biggest releases for me this year will be the latest Ian McEwan. I am a big fan and though no synopses are currently floating about regarding the plot of ‘Solar’ I have heard it is his ‘eco’ book so this could be very interesting. Other books to look out for are the latest Chris Cleave ‘After the End of the World’ which isn’t about an apocalypse and is in fact about a child with leukaemia. With the follow up to the Bronte brilliance of ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ Jude Morgan takes us to Regency times with ‘A Little Folly’. Carlos Ruiz Zafon releases the gothic sounding ‘The Prince of Mist’ which I am looking forward to, though I do still need to read ‘The Angels Game’ hem, hem. Another big book for 2010 looks to be the new Yann Martel book ‘Beatrice & Virgil’ all about a taxidermist.

Debut wise a book I already own though wont be reading till just before it comes out is Natasha Solomon’s ‘Mr Roseblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman’ which from the synopsis sounds hilarious. It’s all about a man trying to become the perfect English Gent. A debut I don’t own but would love to is ‘Advice for Strays’ by Justine Kilkerr all about Marnie whose father and cat (along with all the local cats) disappear and something seems to be following her, something dark an intriguing tale of loss. Erm I think that’s it… I am not going to do non fiction as I am rubbish in that area. Seriously, I know I have said I will read more but as I am not buying I haven’t been looking, so there.

Oh how could I forget. The re-release of the year for me will of course be Nancy Mitford’s ‘Highland Fling’ even if it wont be until 2011 till I can read it anything by Nancy Mitford is wonderful and must be celebrated so I am thrilled Capuchin Classics are re-publishing that. I also have everything crossed, which is becoming quite painful, for The Bloomsbury Group to release another series of books – preferably a selection that features another Joyce Dennys or three that I can lust after! That’s it for now, that’s officially all the books I am most excited about this year today. 

What are you looking forward to?

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Chris Cleave, Ian McEwan, Joyce Dennys, Jude Morgan, Kate Atkinson, Nancy Mitford, Natasha Solomons, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Xiaolu Guo, Yann Martel

Books of 2009

As the end of the year draws in I find that I become quite reflective. I have actually had a bit of an issue with reading this week and wonder if that is an end of year thing, more on that at some other point. 2009 has been a big year for this blog; it’s also been a big year for my reading. It seems a delightful coincidence that today as I wrap up my best reads of 2009 it is also my 500th post which I think deserves some fireworks…

My original idea of doing my ‘best of’ like I did last year with The Savidge Dozen just wasn’t working. I have read too many brilliant books and so I thought I would instead do two separate top ten’s. The first being my favourite books published or re-issued in 2009 itself which was hard and actually I got down to a final twelve but I had to cut the delightful books Notwithstanding and ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ and be tough to make the ten which are (click on each title for full review)…

10. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann – One of the most emotionally raw novels I have ever read. Fictional accounts of a father’s suicide, the events leading up to it and the effects of this tragedy on his son and others around him, based in parts on the authors own fathers suicide. Moving and masterfully written.  

9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – The first of two Atwood novels that truly made my year. This dark (and often darkly funny) tale of the future of humanity starts off sounding like something out of a sci-fi novel yet disturbingly slowly reads as a not too distant possibility.  

8. After The Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld – Without question the debut novel of the year for me. A book many are labelling as being a ‘War book’, I wouldn’t 100% agree with that as its so much more. The author calls it a ‘romantic thriller about men who don’t speak’ I would call it ‘a book about the dark truths behind the faces of those we love’ a compelling and moving read.

7. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill – Some loved it some hated it, I revelled in it. Susan Hill’s thoughts on some of her books and the people she met who wrote them. And she popped by and made a comment or two.

6. The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan – A fictional account of those famous Bronte Sisters which sadly didn’t get the Man Booker notice it should have. This brings the Bronte’s to life and you will think of them slightly differently. Made me want to read every Bronte book I could… as yet I haven’t started but a possible resolution for 2010, that or read all of Morgan’s prior works.

5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – The deserved winner from the Man Booker Shortlist and the one I guessed (though I was hoping a certain other book would win, see below). I thought that there had been Tudor fiction overload, I was wrong just as I was wrong that reading a book about Thomas Cromwell that was huge would bore me to death, I was enthralled and enwrapped.

4. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The only way I can think of to describe this book which skips such a huge expanse of time is ‘a war torn epic’. I thought this was marvellous and was thrilled I got to hear her speak about it and even ask her a question; I was a bit in awe.

3. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran – Definitely the non fiction book of 2009, well published in 2009. Getting a glimpse into the private world of such a marvellous author and how her criminal mastermind brain worked and plotted was utterly fascinating.

2. Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Technically not actually released originally in 2009, but thankfully brought back from the past thanks to the wonderful Bloomsbury Group. The tale of Henrietta and the villagers she lives with during the war had me laughing out loud all over the place.

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – A book I fell wholly in love with from start to finish. It might not have the biggest plot or be brimming with a huge cast of characters but its simplicity is what makes it so stunning. An interesting look at the life of a woman who is sent to be saved from the poverty in Ireland by being shipped to America, only not everyone wants to be saved. Utterly stunning and quietly intense.

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Then I had the ridiculous task of finding the ten ‘best of the rest’ which in a year where I read such delights as The Secret Scripture (which lost a point or two for the ending I won’t lie) and the joy Miss Garnett’s Angel and had a Sensation Season was going to be tough. OK, so it’s not quite ten but it’s as close as I could get. The final ten (cough, eleven) are…

10. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – I wasn’t convinced that a thriller based on a child murderer in the time of Stalinist Russia would work for me. I was utterly wrong as I think for me it’s been the thriller of the year. Also thrilling was getting to go to Tom’s house for coffee and questions.

9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – Proof that sometimes books can be hard work but all that hard work is definitely worth it. Opening with the suicide of the narrator’s sister, this becomes an epic novel of the lives of the Chase sisters and the effects of the Second World War. Also comes with an intriguing novel inside the novel and a sci-fi-ish novel inside that one, are you keeping up?

8. State of Happiness by Stella Duffy – I am a big admirer of Stella and her work and this to me is her best fiction yet (oh but wait for the next one in 2010) despite loving her latest book The Room of Lost Things in 2008. This is a tale about love and ultimately death and it broke my heart and made me cry quite a lot. If you are up for an emotional journey and wonderful writing you simply cannot miss this book.

7. Lady into Fox by David Garnett – Wonderful surreal and touching fable of a husband and how he deals with his wife randomly turning into a fox one day. This is may only be 96 pages long but each page is perfection.

6. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Most of the planet with have read this novel so I will simply say a modern classic masterpiece about a dystopian future where we are all under the watchful all seeing eye of Big Brother and should ever be fearful of Room 101.  

5. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – My first year of reading Persephone books and this one just took me on a journey that I wasn’t expecting. A sensational tale of rich American heiresses, one whom meekly marries an Englishman for a title and vanishes, the other a forthright woman who wishes to seek her sister out and solve the mystery of what has befallen her.

4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – A total surprise hit of 2009 for me. I never thought that a ‘sci-fi’ book about a mentally handicapped man and a genius mouse would grab me let alone move me to tears and yet this frankly marvellous book did exactly that.

3. Small Island by Andrea Levy – Really this is a modern masterpiece. A tale of two completely different women brought together through war and adversity. Also a tale of forbidden love, war, racism and hope, a remarkable book I was glad Granny Savidge Reads recommended so strongly and so often.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This book is what I may now consider the greatest nonfiction book I have ever read (so far – though unlikely to be beaten). A true tale of the ruthless killing of a family in America, and a thought provoking quite often disturbing study of their murderers. In parts bleak and horrific, it’s also emotional (I cried at this one too) and yet a darkly fascinating insight into the minds of killers.  

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood/Armadale by Wilkie Collins – Technically I am cheating but I really couldn’t decide between these two. The epic scope, characters and thrilling plots of each of these was utterly remarkable. In a year where I rediscovered my loved of all things sensational I found these two new favourite books. Both of these are genuine gems of sensation novels and couldn’t have more mystery, twists, dramas or thrills if they tried.

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I have to say I don’t think that minimal short snappy reviews are my fortes so do visit the full reviews, they are much better. Should you be really tough and ask me which out of this final twenty one would be my favourite of the year I would have to go with… Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I know some people will be surprised after my sensation fiction love in and some of you won’t agree and that’s fine, though don’t push your negative comments below this post (ha, ha, ha), for me it was just wonderful and a true surprise delight in this years Man Booker Longlist read-a-thon. There will be much more Toibin to come in 2010 I promise you. Now I must dash as I have a party to prepare for (attending not hosting) and some resolutions to make… What have been your best books of 2009?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Daniel Keyes, David Garnett, David Vann, Ellen Wood, Evie Wyld, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, Hilary Mantel, John Curran, Jude Morgan, Kamila Shamsie, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tom Rob Smith, Truman Capote, Wilkie Collins

Small Island – Andrea Levy

No more Granny Savidge Reads for a while, you will just have to make do with me from now on. Well until the spring when I am off, with the Converted One of course, up north for a weekend of blogging respite for me but blog building for a certain someone. Today’s post is all about one of Gran’s favourite books which is Small Island by Andrea Levy which I had decided to read while she was staying here and also before the second half of the BBC adaptation is on. Now my Gran and I agree on a lot of books but heartily disagree on many too. Which category would this book fall into?

Small Island starts as two of its main characters come face to face. On a street in London in 1948 Queenie Bligh opens the door to be faced with Hortense Gilbert fresh from Jamaica, a woman she has never seen before but one who turns out to be the wife of one of her lodgers Gilbert. One of several lodgers that Queenie’s neighbours do not approve of as they are black, the fact that Gilbert fought for the British in the War it’s recovering from doesn’t matter one jot. With her husband away Queenie needs the cash and besides she isn’t prejudice, she takes people as she finds them and she finds them alright. Though at first you wouldn’t think these two women have anything in common you soon learn they do and not just in personality or the facts they didn’t marry for love… there is something in their very different pasts that links them too.

I am making it sound like the book is just about these two women and that isn’t the case at all, they just take over every scene they are in even when they aren’t narrating it. The book is actually narrated by Queenie, Hortense and their two husbands Gilbert (who is just lovely) and Bernard. Each has a very interesting tale to tell not only on their lives and backgrounds, which are revealed in a slightly disjointed order. They also give four voices to war, culture, love and racism which aren’t small topics by any means.

Hortense who comes to England after buying her marriage to a man she doesn’t love only to find it isn’t the dream she dreamt of and that despite her high opinion of herself society sees her as the lowest of the low is a particularly interesting story. Gilbert, who always tries to better his life and his difficult wife’s dreams, yet gets stuck at every step because of the colour of his skin. Queenie’s story comes later in the book but it packs a punch or two, especially when the repressed Bernhard comes back.

I could gush and gush on and on all the praise I have for this book for hours. It just worked on so many levels for me. It had great storylines and plots; in fact this book had so much to say and was so delightfully written I think I could have read another few hundred pages of the voices and their backgrounds and thoughts on the situations they were in. My only wish is that I hadn’t seen the first half of the BBC adaptation (which you can see on iPlayer) before I started reading the book as it gave away some of the forthcoming plots and twists, but only some, and it is a wonderful adaptation.

So like my Gran I absolutely loved this book; in fact I utterly adored it. Could you tell? I thought it was just so wonderfully written, the characters vivid (I think Hortense and Queenie are two of my favourite characters of the year). How Levy came up with the back stories and how they all interweaved together I will never know, they were completely believable despite happening on opposite sides of the world and you couldn’t guess how it would all work out. So good indeed was this wonderful novel that I ended up missing my stops on the tube several times reading this book which is a very good sign. One of my books of the year, in fact a book that will be whizzing straight into my top ten books of all time. Utterly marvellous, if you havent read it (which I think most of you will have – what did you think?) then you simply must!

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Books To Film, Headline Review, Review

Simon’s Saturday Salon… Or Bookish Bits

This is something a little bit different for the blog which I thought might be fun. I have seen on various people’s blogs such as Stuck-in-a-Book who does weekly miscellany posts with links they have liked and other bookish bits and so I thought well why not? I also thought I could throw in some questions for you all. The first question I think I should ask you all is whether you prefer Simon’s Saturday Salon or Simon’s Bookish Bits, your choice shall be what this feature becomes.

This feature might become a weekly thing; it might become something I do once a month one a year who knows let’s just see how we go for now. As with reading it seems nicer to do things on a whim rather than to plan things for weeks to come. After a rather awful case of book burn out/readers block I am back to reading on whims it’s the only way. Mind you having to read the latest book group choice pushed me through it. You can see what the latest book that Linda chose was on the Book Group page.

Do any of you do podcasts, I dont mean do you make your own. I wish I could I would love that. A weekly Simon Says can you imagine… ok back to earth now. If you do enjoy a podcast then my podcast of the week has to be the BBC’s National Short Story Award podcasts where you can get them all for free!

The one book I am racing through at the moment is Small Island by Andrea Levy. I think I might just be one of the last people on earth to have read this book. I simply have to finish it by 9pm Sunday night as its on the BBC and I cant watch it and then read it, never have been able to never will. You can see the trailer here and I think it will be available on BBC iPlayer afterwards, I think its going to be a not to be missed drama. So this has been my favourite book this week what has yours been?

Oh and speaking of youtube links… are you looking for the perfect Christmas book? Then what about a slightly twisted and comic collection from the wonderful Augusten Burroughs? You can see all here. It’s one that I want quite badly, even the book cover makes me really, really giggle! I am quite a fan of Augusten Burroughs work and know that these tales will have me giggling throughout the festive season! If you haven’t already read Burroughs and in particular ‘Running With Scissors’ then you absolutely must. It’s heartbreaking and heartbreakingly funny all in one go. What books are you hoping Santa brings you this year?

Now I have to tell you all something shocking next and I don’t know how to do this. I have been out to a book shop. Not just any book shop, this is a shop Simon T of Stuck-in-a-Book told me about that rivals my 5 for £2 shop in Notting Hill. I decided that now the book ban has been lifted I would have a mooch and so I mooched through the first room…

And mooched through the second room…

And mooched through the third room…

And what did I leave with, how many books did this book addict walk away with… None, absolutely nothing! I think I might be ill. Mind you its probably for the best as my TBR is out of control. The lovely Kimbofo has been sorting her TBR pile out and has listed what she has. I am so nosey I loved this post. I then thought ‘oh maybe I should have a go’ however the shame of listing all 793 books I have on my TBR piles/shelves and in my TBR boxes is too shameful to share I think. Maybe one it decreases? Maybe!

I really must dash as I have to pick a very special someone up from St Pancras Station today; can you guess who it is? That’s right Granny (though she hates that term its ‘Gran’) Savidge Reads is coming to stay for a while. I have a shift at Highgate and then I will be picking her up and we have a rather hectic London itinerary which she knows nothing about yet. I shall of course report back. I did wonder though if you would all enjoy a bookish interview with Granny Savidge Reads? It would be a bit like a Savidge Reads Grills though instead of an author I could interview my Gran about ‘the life of a reader’ at 68 she has been reading quite sometime and am sure has anecdotes and novel tales aplenty. So what would you like me to ask her?

Blimey you do have a lot to answer today. What do you prefer Simon’s Saturday Salon or Simon’s Bookish Bits for this feature title? What’s the best book you have read of late? Last but certainly not least… what would you really like to ask Granny Savidge Reads, though remembering to respect your elders of course, about a literary loving life?

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Augusten Burroughs, Book Thoughts, Simon's Bookish Bits