June 18, 2006

Small Island

Small Island by Andrea Levy
Contemporary Fiction
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.


  1. Ladyslott (Linda Slott)7:32 PM


    I know what you mean about perserverance. One book that comes to mind is Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I too had nominated it for a book discussion and after almost 150 pages was ready to just give it up. And then the tide turned and I ended up loving that book so much. So now I tend to give up on books that are obviously poorly written, or just down right awful. But if a book has promise I will try and stick it out to see if it is one of those undiscovered gems, and so far I haven't been disappointed too often.

    I enjoy your blog very much.

  2. Ah, I'll keep this in mind when I finally get around to reading my copy of Captain Corelli's Mandolin (which has been in my TBR stacks for years!).


  3. Anonymous9:26 AM

    Lesley, I'm glad you wound up liking the book since I recommended to you! I will also like to re-read it some day. It's one of the best I've read this year. Mom

  4. Okay, darn it, another one to add to the Wish List. :)

  5. Nancy,

    Just remember, this is one that takes a little while to get interested in. At least it did for me and some of my friends.

  6. Anonymous4:11 AM

    Hi, Les!

    I really do admire your perseverance - I tend to give up on a book if it's not doing anything for me by page 100!

    With regard to "Small Island", I went through the first couple of hundred pages in a flash, but got mired down while reading Bernard's narrative and that totally threw me off the book for a while. Fortunately, all that drama and excitement in the end pulled me back in and I came away with the feeling of having really enjoyed the book!

    I'm going to link your review with mine, if you don't mind. Thanks!

  7. Lotus, one of the reasons I stuck with it as long as I did is because my mom gave it such high praise and I trust her opinions. I'm lucky in that we share similar reading tastes. Thanks for the link to my review on your blog! BTW, I keep meaning to tell you I like your new photo. Very exotic!


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