The Long Song: A Novel by Andrea Levy | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
The Long Song

The Long Song

3.7 27
by Andrea Levy
     
 

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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

Overview

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 son’s persistent questioning, July’s resilience and heartbreak are gradually revealed in this extraordinarily powerful story of slavery, revolution, freedom, and love.

Editorial Reviews

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)
From the Publisher
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, Reader’s 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. 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.” —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 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.” —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 island’s 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. It’s also exceptionally good.” —Claire Allfree, Metro

“Like all of Levy’s 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 literature’s 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 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.” —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 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.”—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 woman’s emancipation.” —Amanda Smyth, The Irish Times

"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."—Xarissa Holdaway, The Second Pass

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374192174
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
04/27/2010
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.33(h) x 1.24(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.

Meet 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.

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