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Book #9 Small Island, Andrea Levy

As Coastalblog falls ever more drastically off the pace when it comes to the business of getting through fifty books in a year, let me at least take the opportunity to hail reading this book, because in doing so I fulfilled in part one of the main aims of the challenge: catching up with stuff I really should have got round to by now. Prize winning in 2004, defined as a "book of the decade" in 2009, finally got round to by your humble correspondent in 2018. Particularly shaming as I suspect I borrowed it off my mate Celeste in about 2008.

But get round to it I did, and I'm deeply pleased that I did so. This is an exceedingly satisfying read. Levy's command of tone and voice is convincing, and impressive given the range of characters she inhabits in this book. As with Richard Georges' poems, it would be presumptuous to say that I fully understand, but Levy's depiction of the intrinsic racism of post-wart Britain reads convincingly. We've all met a Bernard Bligh, a pukka chap with a disastrous streak of prejudice, and her views of Britain through the wry prism of Gilbert, or the increasing disappointment of Hortense, chimes rather perfectly with these fervid, nationalistic days. It's a salutary prompt to think on whether dear old Blighty is all that great.

There's an essay's worth of stuff to chew in here, but frankly, I'm banging this blog post out in a spare five minutes before bed, and I'll admit I can't do the book justice. So, in brief, whilst I found a couple of the plot devices a trifle irritating, that pales next to the vibrancy of the writing, the utter believability of Gilbert's experiences, the tragicomedy of Hortense's preconceptions, the flawed warmth of Queenie, the awkward, ill-fitting racism of Bernard, all of these add up to a compelling and deeply human story. Mind you, the ending's terrible. Should probably go into more detail, but I may have mentioned this post's somewhat against the clock. G'night.

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