I have been relishing this book for a few weeks now - it's a good, thick, well written one so although the story is compelling I didn't want to devour it too quickly. T chose it and gave it to me for my birthday. I love when he chooses books for me because they are almost always ones I would never have picked up myself but end up really enjoying them.
Small Island is by Andrea Levy, and is set just after the Second World War in England. It is narrated by different characters, each giving their own viewpoints in a series of events that both bring them together and also tear them apart. They also reflect back on their experiences during the war, which explain how they ended up knowing one another, and the complex relationships that have developed.
It is 1948, and Queenie Bligh takes in Jamaican lodgers. Her neighbours disapprove, but her husband Bernard is not back from the war, and she is alone. Gilbert Joseph, having fought in the RAF had high expectations of life as a civilian, as does his wife Hortense, who comes over from Jamaica to join him. However the reality is a long way from their dreams and they struggle to build a life together.
I found this book fascinating as it opened my eyes to the racism experienced by soldiers who had fought with the British throughout the war, and yet were looked upon with suspicion after it. It a long way removed from the society we live in now, where turning someone down for a job because of the colour of their skin would be a shocking and illegal action - yet Gilbert faces this problem repeatedly, and is expected to not only accept it but to understand it.
Small Island is funny, sad, well written and has real depth to its plot and themes. The characters are well developed, and because they each narrate the story, you are able to understand their actions and feelings, and empathise with them even when you may not agree with them. The prizes it has won (Whitbread Book of the Year, and Orange Prize for Fiction) are well deserved and I would not hesitate to recommend it. However, I do wonder if it would be as interesting to someone who is not either British or Jamaican - the story centres so much on the two countries that I would be interested to know if a reader from the US (for example) would enjoy it as much? Let me know if you have read it - I'd love to hear your thoughts.