Synopses & Reviews
THE AUTHOR OF SMALL ISLAND TELLS THE STORY OF THE LAST TURBULENT YEARS OF SLAVERY AND THE EARLY YEARS OF FREEDOM IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY JAMAICA
Small Island introduced Andrea Levy to America and was acclaimed as “a triumph” (San Francisco Chronicle). It won both the Orange Prize and the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and has sold over a million copies worldwide. With The Long Song, Levy once again reinvents the historical novel.
Told in the irresistibly willful and intimate voice of Miss July, with some editorial assistance from her son, Thomas, The Long Song is at once defiant, funny, and shocking. The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation, July lives with her mother until Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow, decides to move her into the great house and rename her “Marguerite.”
Resourceful and mischievous, July soon becomes indispensable to her mistress. Together they live through the bloody Baptist war, followed by the violent and chaotic end of slavery. Taught to read and write so that she can help her mistress run the business, July remains bound to the plantation despite her “freedom.” It is the arrival of a young English overseer, Robert Goodwin, that will dramatically change life in the great house for both July and her mistress. Prompted and provoked by her sons persistent questioning, Julys resilience and heartbreak are gradually revealed in this extraordinarily powerful story of slavery, revolution, freedom, and love.
Praise for The Long Song
“This is a terrific book: beautifully written and imagined, and full of surprises . . . A brilliant historical novel.” —A. N. Wilson, Readers Digest
“In The Long Song, Andrea Levy explores her Jamaican heritage more completely than ever before. This sensational novel—her first since the Orange Prize-winning Small Island, recently adapted for the BBC—tells the life story of July, a slave girl living on a sugar plantation in 1830s Jamaica just as emancipation is juddering into action. Levys handling of slavery is characteristically authentic, resonant and imaginative. She never sermonises. She doesnt need to—the events and characters speak loud and clear for themselves.” —Holly Kyte, The Telegraph
“The Long Song is above all the female version of emancipation, told in vivid, vigorous language in which comedy, contempt and a fierce poetry are at work . . . For all that this is supposed to be the autobiography of a woman with ‘little ink, edited by her anxious, seemly son, The Long Song is told with irresistible cunning; it is captivating, mischievous and optimistic, generating new stories and plot lines throughout the tale. July is one of Levys stubborn women who inspire both irritation and admiration. She is a splendid creation, whose wit, pride and resilience sweeten a tale that would otherwise make her white readers hang their heads in shame.” —Amanda Craig, The Daily Telegraph
“As well as providing a history of post-abolition Jamaica, The Long Song is beautifully written, intricately plotted, humorous and earthy. In patois-inflected prose, Levy conjures the greed and licentiousness of the islands sugar impresarios and heiresses as they indulge vast meals and sexual gropings—before casting Jamaica aside like a sucked orange. Those who enjoyed Small Island will love The Long Song, not just for the insights on the ‘wretched island, but as a marvel of luminous storytelling.” —Ian Thomson, Financial Times
“As I read, I kept thinking how magnificently this novel would work in the theatre. Levy has a talent for crowd control, ensemble work, comic timing. She loves to preside over chaos and includes several scenes of virtuoso Jamaican farce, including conflict in the master bedroom (July ends up under the bed). But you will need to crawl under there yourself to find out who was with her—and why—and what happened next. And be prepared for the laughter to stop suddenly. For Levy knows that there is nothing as seriously revealing as farce . . . A novel such as Small Island is a hard act to follow, but in her new book Levy has moved into top gear . . . The Long Song reads with the sort of ebullient effortlessness that can only be won by hard work.” —Kate Kellaway, The Observer (London)
“As a story of suffering, indomitability and perseverance, it is thoroughly captivating.” —Alex Clark, The Guardian
“As well as being beautifully written The Long Song is a thoroughly researched historical novel that is both powerful and heartbreaking.”—Lianne Kolirin, Daily Express
“This is a huge leap of the imagination. Its also exceptionally good.” —Claire Allfree, Metro
“Like all of Levys work, The Long Song, in its power and beauty, is quite simply the truth.” —Bonnie Greer, Book Quarterly
“It is a wonderful, life-enhancing, at times very funny book, largely because of the brilliant invention of the narrator, July . . . It is thoroughly researched, but it wears its research lightly and as well as a fascinating story of our joint black and white past, it gives us the splendid Miss July, who is surely destined to be one of literatures great characters.” —Sharon Griffiths, The Northern Echo
“Levy has articulated the black British experience like no other . . . What a voice.” —Daily Mirror
“The follow-up to Andrea Levys award-winning Small Island is a set in early 19th century Jamaica and is a tale of the end of slavery. The novel takes the form of a memoir of an old Jamaican woman, July, who was herself once a slave, she is now living comfortably with her son, a printer, who intends to publish her story. Set against turbulent times of oppression and rebellion, Julys story is a personal chronicle of the lives and struggles of individuals, which is at times both heartbreaking and uplifting. Despite the seriousness of her subject, the narrators voice remains charged with humour and insight and she is able to delight and move us with her storytelling.” —Hinterland Times
“An elegant allegory of storytelling . . . A subtly observed, beautifully written, structurally complex novel—an impressive follow-up to Small Island.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“In the inexplicable absence of a definitive and revelatory history of Jamaicas nearly 300 years of slavery, Levy gamely steps into the void with this lively and engaging novel . . . Charming, alarming, Levys vibrant historical novel shimmers with all of the artifice and chicanery slave owners felt compelled to exert.”—Booklist
“The hardback book is a delicious gold, decorated with bronze sugar cane and tendrils of tall grass; I imagined it would be heavy to carry, but it is surprisingly light in weight. In many ways the same can be said of its narrative . . . The Long Song is not, as I had feared, a dark and accusing novel bound to elicit guilt or shame. (My great-grandfather owned a plantation in Trinidad, though not with working slaves.) It is not a discourse on the atrocities of slavery, nor a whip for white readers to lash themselves with. The Long Song is an inspiring, optimistic and beautifully written tale of one spirited womans emancipation.” —Amanda Smyth, The Irish Times"For a novel about slavery, The Long Song is wonderfully funny, largely due to Julys antic voice.And this is a book to be read for its voice, for its song."--Xarissa Holdaway, The Second Pass
Finalist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize
The New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
In her follow-up to Small Island, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction, Andrea Levy once again reinvents the historical novel. Told in the irresistibly willful and intimate voice of Miss July, with some editorial assistance from her son, Thomas, The Long Song is at once defiant, funny, and shocking. The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation in Jamaica, July lives with her mother until Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow, decides to move her into the great house and rename her “Marguerite.” Together they live through the bloody Baptist War and the violent and chaotic end of slavery. An extraordinarily powerful story, “The Long Song leaves its reader with a newly burnished appreciation for life, love, and the pursuit of both” (The Boston Globe).
About the Author
Andrea Levy was born in England to Jamaican parents. Her fourth novel, Small Island, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, the Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. The television adaptation of her novel won an International Emmy for best TV movie/miniseries. The Long Song was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and she is also the author of Fruit of the Lemon, among others. She lives in London.
Reading Group Guide
1. When a young woman asked the author how one could possibly take any pride in ones ancestry when all ones ancestors were slaves, she planted the seed that would eventually become The Long Song. By telling such a story and writing this novel, Andrea Levy wanted to make her questioner feel proud of her heritage. Discuss how the novel does this.
2. In Small Island, Andrea Levy told the story of Jamaicans in London just after World War II; in the The Long Song, she goes further back, to the nineteenth century. Both books explore the relationship among the Caribbean, Jamaica, and Britain. What did you learn from The Long Song that surprised you and that you didnt know before? How do you think novels bring the past to life in a way that history books dont?
3. When she was doing research for the novel, Andrea Levy found plenty of accounts of slavery in Jamaica by white plantation owners, but the voices of the plantations slaves seemed silent or lost. In The Long Song she saw a way to fill the silence with a fictional voice, and to give us a sense of life as it was lived on a daily basis during the period. How successful is the novel in achieving both these aims?
4. July is clearly an unreliable narrator, but what does that mean? How did your feelings for her develop or change in the course of the novel?
5. Caroline Mortimer takes July away from her mother without any thought. Discuss how the relationship between master and servant develops. Does it change once July is “free”?
6. Discuss the authors use of language and of voice in the novel. How does she use humor in tackling the grim and disturbing subject of slavery?
7. Discuss the differences between mens power and womens power in The Long Song. Who are the most vulnerable characters?
8. What role does religion play in the novel? What motivates the leaders of the Baptist revolution, some of whom are tortured for their abolitionist beliefs? What does Christianity mean to the characters?
9. What does Robert Goodwin learn about the nature of work and worth? How do his beliefs about coercion and punishment change? How is this reflected in his feelings for July?
10. In the novel, how do Jamaicans perceive England and the monarchy? What does living in England or leaving England mean to them? Who honors an English identity? Who rejects it?
11. What is special about the structure of the novel? What is the effect of the format, including Thomass foreword and Julys frequent comments aimed directly at the reader?
12. What do you think happened to Emily? Discuss how July portrays motherhood and fatherhood. How do the characters handle the estrangement between mothers and their children?
13. Discuss your own family legacies. What are the chapters that no one wants to speak of, as well as the ones that spark pride?