The Long Song

The Long Song

3.7 26
by Andrea Levy
     
 

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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

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Overview

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).

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Editorial Reviews

The Northern Echo - Sharon Griffiths

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 literature's great characters.
The Second Pass - Xarissa Holdaway

For a novel about slavery, The Long Song is wonderfully funny, largely due to July's antic voice. And this is a book to be read for its voice, for its song.
Reader's Digest - A. N. Wilson

This is a terrific book: beautifully written and imagined, and full of surprises . . . A brilliant historical novel.
The Telegraph - Holly Kyte

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. Levy's handling of slavery is characteristically authentic, resonant and imaginative. She never sermonises. She doesn't need to--the events and characters speak loud and clear for themselves.
The Daily Telegraph - Amanda Craig

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 Levy's 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.
Financial Times - Ian Thomson

As well as providing a history of post-abolition Jamaica, The Long Song is beautifully written, intricately plotted, humorous and earthy. The Long Song, not just for the insights on the 'wretched island,' but as a marvel of luminous storytelling.
The Observer (London) - Kate Kellaway

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.
The Guardian - Alex Clark

As a story of suffering, indomitability and perseverance, it is thoroughly captivating.
Daily Express - Lianne Kolirin

As well as being beautifully written The Long Song is a thoroughly researched historical novel that is both powerful and heartbreaking.
Metro - Claire Allfree

This is a huge leap of the imagination. It's also exceptionally good.
Book Quarterly - Bonnie Greer

Like all of Levy's work, The Long Song, in its power and beauty, is quite simply the truth.
Daily Mirror

Levy has articulated the black British experience like no other . . . What a voice.
Hinterland Times

The follow-up to Andrea Levy's 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, July's 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 narrator's voice remains charged with humour and insight and she is able to delight and move us with her storytelling.
Booklist

In the inexplicable absence of a definitive and revelatory history of Jamaica's nearly 300 years of slavery, Levy gamely steps into the void with this lively and engaging novel . . . Charming, alarming, Levy's vibrant historical novel shimmers with all of the artifice and chicanery slave owners felt compelled to exert.
The Irish Times - Amanda Smyth

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 woman's emancipation.
Fernanda Eberstadt
Readers of The Long Song will find little here of the maddened grief of Toni Morrison's Beloved or the deep melancholy of Edward P. Jones's Known World. Levy's novelistic defense against evil and injustice is her humane sense of comedy. In The Long Song, she has painted a vivid and persuasive portrait of Jamaican slave society, a society that succeeded with bravery, style and strategic patience both to outsmart its oppressors and to plant the seeds of what is today a culture celebrated worldwide.
—The New York Times
Tayari Jones
Andrea Levy's insightful and inspired fifth novel, The Long Song, reminds us that she is one of the best historical novelists of her generation…It's clear that Levy has done her research, but this work never intrudes upon the narrative, which travels at a jaunty pace. Levy's sly humor swims just under the surface of the most treacherous waters…Her refusal to reduce her characters to merely their suffering does not trivialize the experience of enslavement, but underscores the humanity of all involved.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
A distinctive narrative voice and a beguiling plot distinguish Levy's fifth novel (after Orange Prize-winning Small Island). A British writer of Jamaican descent, Levy draws upon history to recall the island's slave rebellion of 1832. The unreliable narrator pretends to be telling the story of a woman called July, born as the result of a rape of a field slave, but it soon becomes obvious that the narrator is July herself. Taken as a house slave when she's eight years old, July is later seduced by the pretentiously moralistic English overseer after he marries the plantation's mistress; his clergyman father has assured him that “a married man might do as he pleases.” Related in July's lilting patois, the narrative encompasses scenes of shocking brutality and mass carnage, but also humor, sometimes verging on farce. Levy's satiric eye registers the venomous racism of the white characters and is equally candid in relating the degrees of social snobbery around skin color among the blacks themselves, July included. Slavery destroys the humanity of everyone is Levy's subtext, while the cliffhanger ending suggests (one hopes) a sequel. (May)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312571146
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
04/26/2011
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
731,168
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

IT WAS FINISHED ALMOST as soon as it began. Kitty felt such little intrusion

from the overseer Tam Dewar’s part that she decided to believe

him merely jostling her from behind like any rough, grunting, huffing

white man would if they were crushed together within a crowd. Except

upon this occasion, when he finally released himself from out of her, he

thrust a crumpled bolt of yellow and black cloth into Kitty’s hand as a

gift. This was more vexing to her than that rude act—for she was left to

puzzle upon whether she should be grateful to this white man for this

limp offering or not . . .

Reader, my son tells me that this is too indelicate a commencement of

any tale. Please pardon me, but your storyteller is a woman possessed of

a forthright tongue and little ink. Waxing upon the nature of trees when

all know they are green and lush upon this island, or birds which are

plainly plentiful and raucous, or taking good words to whine upon the

cruelly hot sun, is neither prudent nor my fancy. Let me confess this

without delay so you might consider whether my tale is one in which

you can find an interest. If not, then be on your way, for there are plenty

books to satisfy if words flowing free as the droppings that fall from the

backside of a mule is your desire.

Go to any shelf that groans under a weight of books and there,

wrapped in leather and stamped in gold, will be volumes whose contents

will find you meandering through the puff and twaddle of some

white lady’s mind. You will see trees aplenty, birds of every hue and

oh, a hot, hot sun residing there. That white missus will have you

acquainted with all the many tribulations of her life upon a Jamaican

sugar plantation before you have barely opened the cover. Two pages

upon the scarcity of beef. Five more upon the want of a new hat to wear

with her splendid pink taffeta dress. No butter but only a wretched alligator

pear again! is surely a hardship worth the ten pages it took to

describe it. Three chapters is not an excess to lament upon a white

woman of discerning mind who finds herself adrift in a society too dull

for her. And as for the indolence and stupidity of her slaves (be sure you

have a handkerchief to dab away your tears), only need of sleep would

stop her taking several more volumes to pronounce upon that most

troublesome of subjects.

And all this particular distress so there might be sugar to sweeten the

tea and blacken the teeth of the people in England. But do not take my

word upon it, peruse the volumes for yourself. For I have. And it was

shocking to have so uplifting an act as reading invite some daft white

missus to belch her foolishness into my head.

So I will not worry myself for your loss if it is those stories you

require. But stay if you wish to hear a tale of my making.

As I write, I have a cup of sweetened tea resting beside me (although

not quite sweet enough for my taste, but sweetness comes at a dear price

here upon this sugar island); the lamp is glowing sufficient to cast a light

upon the paper in front of me; the window is open and a breeze is cooling

upon my neck. But wait . . . for an annoying insect has decided to

throw itself repeatedly against my lamp. Shooing will not remove it, for

it believes the light is where salvation lies. But its insistent buzzing is

distracting me. So I have just squashed it upon an open book. As soon as

I have wiped its bloody carcass from the page (for it is in a volume that

my son was reading), I will continue my tale.

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