The Long Song – Book Review

Kitty turned to face her master.

‘Come along, Caroline. Hurry. We need to get out of the sun.’

‘Can I take her?’ she asked.

Kitty tried to seize air enough to breathe.

‘Yes, if she’ll amuse you. She would be taken soon enough anyway. It will encourage her to have another. They are dreadful mothers, these negroes.’

‘She’ll be my companion here,’ Caroline said. ‘I could train her for the house, or to be my lady’s maid.’ – from The Long Song, page 41 –

July is born in the early part of the nineteenth century on a Jamaican sugar plantation. Her mother is a black slave, her father the white overseer who is her mother’s rapist. One hot day when July is still just a young child, she is noticed by Caroline Mortimer, the sister of the plantation’s owner who has arrived from England. On a whim, Caroline decides to take July to be her companion, stealing her from July’s mother without a second thought and renaming her Marguerite. The Long Song is July’s story, narrated retrospectively by an adult July many years later. It is not an easy story, spanning decades and taking the reader through the tumultuous years of the Baptist War and the controversial end to slavery in Jamaica. But, it is July’s voice which drives the narrative. Funny, cynical, highly observant and intelligent, July weighs in on racism, violence, and the struggle for freedom at a time when blacks were viewed as property to rich, white landowners.

Only with a white man, can there be guarantee that the colour of your pickney will be raised. For a mulatto who breeds with a white man will bring forth a quadroon; and the quadroon that enjoys white relations will give to this world a mustee; the mustee will beget a mustiphino; and the mustiphino…oh, the mustiphino’s child with a white man for a papa will find each day greets them no longer with a frown, but welcomes them with a smile, as they at last stride within this world as a cherished white person. – from The Long Song, page 203 –

The Long Song is a brilliant novel narrated by an unforgettable character. July is, perhaps, one of the most memorable female voices I have read in a long, long time. Bittersweet, funny, often devastating…this is a novel which drew me in immediately and held me in its grip to the final page. Andrea Levy writes with an honesty and insight into the human condition that takes one’s breath away.

The Long Song was shortlisted for the 2010 Booker Prize, longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction, a finalist for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize, and named as a 2010 New York Times Most Notable book. It is, in my opinion, worthy of all these accolades. Beautiful prose, enduring characters, and the evocation of place that vibrates off the page, all combine to create a remarkable novel of historical significance.

Readers who love literary fiction and historical fiction will want to put The Long Song on their must read list.

Highly recommended.

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FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.


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    • Jill on August 3, 2011 at 07:59

    A great review! I picked up The Long Song just last week at a Borders’ Liquidation Sale. Glad I did! =)

  1. This sounds like an interesting book. I’m adding it to my wishlist! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Pam on August 3, 2011 at 10:12

    Ah, yes, this has been on my list since it was shortlisted but I haven’t read it. It looks really lovely. Thanks for the review!

  2. Oh, this one sounds like it deals with some very tough issues, but also like it’s engaging and interesting. I read a book similar to this last year whose name has escaped my mind at the moment, but I think it would be interesting to read this one and compare the two. This was a lovely review, and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing your elegant and enticing thoughts with us!

    • Laura on August 3, 2011 at 11:47

    Oh boy. I wasn’t sure about this one, having read mixed reviews last year. But if YOU gave it 5 stars … It’s a must read!!

  3. I have always wanted to read this author, but still haven’t managed to…

    • EL Fay on August 3, 2011 at 14:32

    Sounds intriguing! Will definitely consider this one, especially if it has a “memorable female voice.”

  4. You’ve made this sound fabulous! I can’t wait to read it.

    • Amused on August 3, 2011 at 18:03

    I’m so glad to hear you found this book to be as good as you did. Sometimes when books get nominated for so many awards I wonder why because they often are just ok. I have this one and need to read it soon!

    • gavin on August 3, 2011 at 18:42

    I’m glad to hear you liked this one. I’m moving it up my TBR list!

  5. Hi praise, indeed! I read this one last summer and really liked it. I remember being entranced by it and reading it in a single day. I hope to read Small Island later this year too, as so many felt The Long Song wasn’t nearly as good.

  6. Tough and very sad reading (I think)

    • Wendy on August 6, 2011 at 07:19

    Jill: I hope you find it as wonderful as I did!

    Julie: You’re welcome!

    Pam: Hope you’ll enjoy it 🙂

    Heather: It is definitely a bit tough to read, but so worth it.

    Laura: I hope you and I are in sync on this one 🙂

    Kailana: She is very good…

    El Fay: I find myself still thinking of July even now…she is very memorable.

    Kathy: Hope you’ll get a chance to!

    • Wendy on August 6, 2011 at 07:21

    Amused: I agree – sometimes the literary awards list don’t pan out…although I am rarely disappointed with the Oranges.

    Gavin: I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts on it!

    Carrie: If Small Island is a lot better than this one, I’ll need to come up with a different rating system *laughs* Glad you found it compelling too!

    Mystica: Yes, it is tragic…but it is told so well…really not one to be missed despite the tough subject matter.

  7. Oh, I hope this is as good as Small Island! I loved that book (8/10), after a slow start. I know she has an earlier novel, but I’ve not taken the time to get a copy. Lovely review, Wendy. Rereading mine (for Small Island) made me realize how lazy I’ve become with my reviews!

    • Wendy on August 25, 2011 at 08:13

    Les: I haven’t read Small Island – so good to hear you loved it. I hope you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did 🙂

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