June 18, 2006
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Finished on 6/12/06
Rating: A- (8/10 Very good)
Winner of three major literary prizes in the UK - the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Commonwealth Writer’s prize. In addition, it has been awarded the Orange ‘Best of the Best’ prize.
Long before on-line books groups and my huge TBR (to-be-read) stacks, I was determined to finish every book I started, suffering through painfully dull or poorly written novels, classics and works of nonfiction. The older I get and the more I read, the easier it’s become to quit books that fail to entertain or hold my interest.
Sometimes, however, perseverance pays off and a gem is discovered, leading me to wonder how many others I may have missed simply because I was too impatient or quick to call it quits.
Ian McEwan’s Atonement took well over 80 pages before I came to realize it was well worth every minute I’d invested leading up to that turning point, ultimately becoming my number one read for that particular year. The Life of Pi (Yann Martel) and A Thread of Grace (Mary Doria Russell) are two other examples of wonderful novels that I would have missed had I given up when they failed (initially) to entertain me.
It took me a whopping 200+ pages before I even started to get interested in Small Island and the only reason I stuck it out that long is because it was my personal nomination for an on-line book group read for June. I considered setting it down several times, but kept plugging away out of sheer guilt. How would it look to the rest of the group if I, the member who put it up for nomination, didn’t even bother to finish?
Yet, in spite of the long, slow start, I was finally drawn into the narrative, captivated in particular by two of the four narrators, and anxious to return to my reading when called away by the mundane chores of life. As the final chapters drew near, I came to realize how much I’d enjoyed the story and slowed down, savoring the final pages.
Set in postwar London, Small Island is a thought-provoking narrative, centered around four strangers whose lives intersect and overlap. Levy addresses issues of race, prejudice and loyalty with a keen sense of emotion mixed with subtle humor and tenderness.
I was quite impressed with this author and not only plan to read her other novels, but hope to make time to re-read Small Island in the not too distant future. I have a feeling I’ll find the first 200 pages much more enjoyable the second time around. I also have a strong feeling that this particular novel will wind up in my Top Ten for 2006. It was definitely worth my time and effort.