Tag 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

The Actual Orange Prize Longlist 2010

So here it is the actual Orange Prize List and ok so it doesn’t really resemble my list from yesterday (and before anyone asks I have no idea whats going on with images on the site today – apols) in anyway shape or form but I did actually guess 6 and mentioned ‘The Little Stranger’ and am indeed kicking myself as I thought that ‘Black Mamba Boy’ might get in there and didn’t pop it in my final 20. I would have guessed 8 then… though that still isn’t half the list, ha!

Anyway in the name of fun I have popped the ones I actually guessed in italics and the ones that I have actually read, all two and a half of them, in bold and then the ones I own (though I think a couple of these I don’t are on the way to Savidge Towers) and might read, no pressure if I don’t, before the winner is announced have stars next to them.

Rosie Alison – The Very Thought of You (Alma Books)
Eleanor Catton – The Rehearsal (Granta)
Clare Clark – Savage Lands (Harvill Secker)*
Amanda Craig – Hearts and Minds (Little, Brown)
Roopa Farooki – The Way Things Look to Me (Pan Books)
Rebecca Gowers – The Twisted Heart (Canongate)
M.J. Hyland – This is How (Canongate)
Sadie Jones – Small Wars (Chatto & Windus)*
Barbara Kingsolver – The Lacuna (Faber and Faber)
Laila Lalami – Secret Son (Viking)
Andrea Levy – The Long Song (Headline Review)*
Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
Maria McCann – The Wilding (Faber and Faber)
Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)*
Nadifa Mohamed – Black Mamba Boy (HarperCollins)*
Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
Monique Roffey – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon and Schuster)
Amy Sackville – The Still Point (Portobello Books)
Kathryn Stockett – The Help (Fig Tree)*
Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger (Virago)*

What do you think of the list? It’s given me food for thought.

Do you think Wolf Hall will just clear up again? Could Lorrie Moore’s first full novel win? Is this Sarah Waters year? And what about those left off? I am gutted not to see Evie Wyld on the list and could actually have a small wobbly about it, but I shan’t – its not dignified. What about Margaret Atwood’s lacking presence? Which other books would you have loved to see on there but haven’t?

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Guessing The Orange Prize Longlist 2010

I do like a good guessing game, I can almost guarantee I will always be pretty much wrong but I still like to have a go anyway. The last bookish year saw me trying and failing (though I did better than the previous year) to guess the Man Booker Longlist (I did guess the winner though) and the winner of the Orange Longlist both of which I got wrong. It is my dream to one day be on a book prize panel of some sort and as it will never be the Orange I thought I would list you what I would put forward before the actual 20 are announced tomorrow. I haven’t read them all but really want to, all bar two I haven’t read are on my TBR.

It was quite hard choosing though as the books can’t be translated, have to have been published in the UK between the 1st April 2009 and 31st March 2010 (one book in my list is due out on both the 31st of March and 1st of April depending where you look so it may not make it, I went under the assumption that the 31st was correct) and all must be novels, no novellas. 

I have popped them all alphabetically in order of author surname so as you can’t guess my favourites…

   

Ms. Hempel Chronicles – Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton
War on the Margins – Libby Cone
Isa and May – Margaret Forster

   

How To Paint A Dead Man – Sarah Hall
Blueeyedboy – Joanne Harris
Dog Boy – Eva Hornung
Small Wars – Sadie Jones

   

The Long Song – Andrea Levy
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
The Confessions of Edward Day – Valerie Martin
A Gate At The Stairs – Lorrie Moore

    

White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Where The Serpent Lives – Ruth Padel
The Boy Next Door – Irene Sabatini
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson

   

The Help – Kathryn Stockett
Trespass – Rose Tremain
Dancing Backwards – Salley Vickers
After The Fire, A Still Small Voice – Evie Wyld

I will say another two titles were fighting for a place in the top twenty and they were ‘Black Mamba Boy’ by Nadifa Mohamed and ‘The Rapture’ by Liz Jensen so if the judges pick either of these then I will be kicking myself. I also originally had ‘A Beginners Guide To Acting English’ by Shappi Khorsandi not realising it was a memoir (have now seen the very tiny word on the back of the book, thank you Justine! You see it started off being quite tough and then I kept thinking of ‘just one more’ several times.

You might notice some big contenders of last year are missing from my list, titles such as Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood’, Sarah Water’s ‘The Little Stranger’, Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ and A. S. Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’ (though I don’t think she allows hers to be put forward) all four of which I read last year and thought were very good I just think they have had enough publicity already. You could say the same for Wolf Hall but I adored it more than very much liking it so it made my selection. It wouldn’t be a shock or a scandal to see any of those on the list though. 

So will I be anywhere near right? Quite unlikely, would be hilarious if I was though. What about all of you, what do you think might be seen on the Longlist this year? I am not planning on intentionally reading whatever the final twenty or even the short listed titles are, is anyone else?

Note: This was a post I scheduled the other week and I didn’t realise Jackie was doing one too which you can see over at Farmlanebooks if you havent already. Let me know if any more of you are doing this!

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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

Books for a Break Away

Now I am off up north on my own this weekend which involves (as the trains have gotten so ridiculously expensive already in the lead up to Christmas) two almost six hour journeys each way. However the fact I will be seeing my 1 year old twin cousin’s makes the trip very much worth it, though the prospect of looking after them on my own for a day or two is slightly daunting. So being in the fortunate position that I can read on a coach (some people can’t and I feel for them) I am planning on using this as perfect binge reading time and so have had to ponder over what to read for 12 hours.

Now taking books on your travels is always a tough call. You don’t want to be weighed down for a start, though that hasn’t quite worked as you will see below shortly. There is also the worry of what sort of book you will be in the mood for and with twelve hours free who knows? It also doesn’t help that I will be starting a new book tomorrow and so as a rule I always take a few books and this time I decided to take five with me. After much mulling and wandering through my bookshelves (so not planned reading its all been random) I decided on the following…

Travel Reading To Go?

  • 1984 – George Orwell (ok one bit of planned reading as this is for book group on Thursday)
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson (a short book for Halloween evening and have heard some rave reviews)
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery (been tempting me for ages)
  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (one of my tomes have been meaning to read)
  • The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood (something new which I have been meaning to read)

Now if you would like to get your hands on a ‘chilling’ tale for Halloween you can (I have just finished a Halloween related book to discuss tomorrow) get the Shirley Jackson for free (well 90p), as I did, with The Times as its available until the end of today. Just to give you a tip off as its alost a tenner new in the shops.

The Times & Jackson Giveaway

Speaking of newspapers etc, I am taking some bookish magazines with me such as Books Quarterly which Waterstones publish and I love, plus the wonderful Persephone Biannually which I have half read already (lovely to see lots of you in it). I am also taking a catalogue or two as Persephone and Oxford Classics aren’t just book catalogues but glossy wonderful and delightful magazines that give you much more than a blurb.

Bookish Magazines

So all in all the twelve hours should fly by before I know it! How do you choose the books you take away with you on holiday? Do you have a selection or just one and hope for the best? What bookish magazines do you simply have to get every issue of?

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Tackling The Tomes

Following on from yesterday’s post about reading at leisure and just going off at a tangent I was mulling through my shelves and spotted one that has been getting no attention since I moved into my new house. Now I am a big fan of seeing other people’s shelves on their blogs, for example Claire of Paperback Reader has done a series of colour co-ordinated shelves which looked stunning. I tried this back in February and though it looked lovely I couldn’t ever find anything and so that became a bit of a nightmare, if an aesthetically pleasing on, I know it works wonderfully well for a lot of people though.

When I moved house back in July I inherited lots of new shelves in my room as well as the shelves “for books I have read” in the lounge. The question was how to organise them so I did a hardback shelf, a review paperback shelf, a non fiction shelf, a mixture shelf (books by Daphne, Man Booker winners and dare I say it books I haven’t finished), a short reads shelf and the shelf of today’s post The Blinking Big Books shelf.

Blinking Big Books

Now some of the titles have been must reads for ages and I think one or two of them may end up in my packing for my long weekend up north that’s coming up. The ones I have heard lots about and am looking forward to reading are…

  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (on of my Gran’s fav’s)
  • A Widow for One Year – John Irving
  • The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  • Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver (another of Gran’s favourites)
  • The American Boy – Andrew Taylor
  • Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel
  • Crime & Punishment – Dostoevsky

The ones I am not so sure about which have either been bought for me, sent to me or randomly purchased in shops ‘because they look nice’ (and could do with your thought on, though do give them on the ones above too) are…

  • Of Human Bondage – W Somerset Maugham
  • At Swim Two Boys – Jamie O’Neil
  • The Impressionist – Hari Kunzru (one my Mum very much liked)
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marissa Pessl
  • The Forsythe Saga – John Galsworthy
  • Rebecca’s Tale – Sally Beauman (a Rebecca sequel/prequel)
  • The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – G. W. Dahlquist
  • The Madness of a Seduced Woman – Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
  • The Grave Diggers Daughter – Joyce Carol Oates

There are a few more (such as the book We Need To Talk About Kevin that I may try and re-read after failing miserably) but that’s quite enough for now. I would just like your thoughts on them especially as I always find really long books quite hard work. I don’t know why this is, one possible explanation is the fact I think about how many shorter books I could be reading. Or the fact they are a bit of nightmare to carry around with you when you are commuting, though I won’t be for quite a while so that’s another excuse down. It could of course just be I am reading the wrong ones?

What are your thoughts on great big books? Which have been your favourites? Do you avoid them at all costs? Do I have any gems above that I simply must read now? Anything big bookish to add?

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Granny Savidge Reads

So Granny Savidge Reads (who it would appear is very popular and indeed in demand on this blog) has been staying and I know you have all been desperate to hear from the delightful Dorothy but we have been very busy hitting the museums, restaurants, galleries, cafes and of course bookshops of London town a city which my Gran ‘never tires of’ and still ‘gets excited by’.

Now I did ask Gran to write a blog but being such an upto date trend setter she has a mac and finds my computer a little bit daunting plus we didnt have much time and so until her next visit we decided she would do a top ten of her favourite books. This became a top twenty and I have been told to say that “at 67 years of age when you have been reading for almost 64 years having a top ten is impossible as you have read too many great books… well if you are lucky!” So here is Granny Savidge Reads (though if she ever heard me call her Granny she would be so unimpressed) top twenty books “in no particular order”…

  • Rabbit Run – John Updike
  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Barchester Towers – Anthony Trollope
  • The Quiet American – Graham Greene
  • Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • East of Eden – John Steinbeck
  • Snow Falling on Cedars – David Gutterson
  • A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • English Passengers – Matthew Kneale
  • Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr
  • Reading Tugenev – William Trevor
  • The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad
  • Small Island – Andrea Levy
  • The Naked and the Dead – Norman Mailer
  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

When I said I had only read one of those (I didn’t feel mentioning I had read half of Anna Karenina would count) which is of course Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ I could have sworn she muttered “call yourself a book blogger” hahaha, before realising “but I have bought you three of them… haven’t you read any of the books that I have bought you?” I was fortunately forgiven. Though I do think that ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ need to climb my TBR sharpish before Dorothy descends again. Have you read any of these?

We naturally, especially in the 5th floor cafe/bar of the huge Waterstones in Piccadilly, talked alot about books. In fact Gran is one of the few people I can talk to about books on and off for two days without either party getting bored. We don’t agree on all books at all. I loved ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife” (which we discussed because of the movie being advertised everywhere) Gran thought ‘it wasnt up to much… and a naked man meeting a young girl, no its not right’ which of course made me guffaw.

I had lots of authors to ask her about and she came out with some gems. On Angela Carter “well its all this surrealism, and then she just rewrote someone elses stories no, not for me”. On Anita Shrieve “well I read one or two but by the third she is much of a muchness”. On Diana Athill (who’s ‘Somewhere Towards The End’ she read and cracked the spine of – I was shell shocked) “you wouldnt warm to her would you, and I don’t like all this pretending that she is poor”.

We do of course love some of the same authors. I have only just started reading William Trevor but agree “his prose is absolutely stunning” and that Margaret Atwood “isn’t one to be missed, even when I don’t like her – which is rare – she is still very good” and Anne Tyler “oh I do like her, does she have a new one out, can you get me a preview copy?”.

She has already booked her next visit, and may indeed be here for one of my theme’s coming up, either the whole September theme (I am teasing you all with that one) or for the special fortnight I am now planning in October which is also her birthday month and we are going to do afternoon tea at The Ritz just before or just after. On that visit she has promised she will do a blog or two “and you can show me how to create and work one of these blogs… I wouldn’t mind having a go.” Which sounds interesting!

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