Small Island by Andrea Levy

About the book

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was…

Reviewed by U3A Book Circle 3 Reading Group:

Everyone enjoyed this book. Beautifully portrayed characters. Thought provoking, generating much discussion. Evocative of the post-war era.

Star rating: ****

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19 thoughts on “Small Island by Andrea Levy”

  1. Review by Victoria Reading Group :
    Thought provoking. Funny. Wonderful character observation. Clever device of writing – first person for each character.
    Star rating: ****

  2. Review by U3A Emsworth Reading Group:
    We enjoyed this book very much. We thought it was very cleverly constructed, that the characterisation was good and amusing . We felt the times (wartime and 1948) were authentic and the conditions in which the characters lived were true to life. It made us feel guilty about racism and ignorance.
    Star rating: ****

  3. Review by Hawkley Book Group:
    Generally enjoyed by all the group – some were pleasantly surprised. Warmed to all the characters, graphically written, kept the pace.
    Star rating: ***+

  4. Review by Denmead Reading Circle:
    Universally enjoyed ‘couldn’t read fast enough, so good’. All older readers bar 2 did not know about the problems!
    Star rating: ****

  5. Review by CC Readers:
    Thought-provoking. Beautifully written – the era of 1948 well conveyed. Ironic humour. Each chapter a story on its own. Engaging and entertaining. Excellent descriptive writing – both cultures cleverly conveyed. We all greatly enjoyed this.
    Star rating: ****

  6. Review by Anton Bookies U3A:
    Very interesting and well written. Everyone got something out of it. Portrays four people coming to terms with life and the shifting of their ambitions in an environment of deprivation and prejudice. Told with warmth and not distorted by political connections. A difficult subject handled in a novel and even handed way. A book enjoyed by all.
    Star rating: ****

  7. Review by Boaters Book Club:
    Everyone loved the book, felt it held the attention, was very readable, well researched, perceptive and emphatic. The TV series was also liked. The description of wartime, racial attitudes, Jamaican and British life at that time and the characters (esp Bernard and Arthur) were admired. The ending was not liked by all (pregnancy).
    Star rating: ****

  8. Review by The Benches Reading Group:
    One of those novels to be read slowly…. enjoying and savouring every word. Much humour and excellent description of the main characters. Easy to read but showed, after WW2, how racial prejudices was fairly rampant in a rundown, bomb devastated England. Recommend the novel as a good read.
    Star rating: ****

  9. Review by North Baddesley WI Group 2:
    Very well written and observed. Explores the whole aspect of prejudice. It was written with some humour without being disrespectful. It described life before and after 2nd World War.
    Rating: 4 Stars

  10. Review by New Forest/Waterside U3A Reading Group:
    Andrea Levy with remarkable skill reminded our group of the tensions which maintained in Britain immediately after the 39/45 war when boatloads of West Indians arrived. She also enlightened readers, unfamiliar with the society they were coming from, of the culture shock they were experiencing. The two pictures were tellingly pitched against the behaviour and attitude of the Brits in India. We were still feeling superior about ‘Our Empire’ then. Small Island was considered a ‘good read’ but some of the group are still uncomfortable with novels of the current ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ style of construction with chapters devoted to individual characters.
    Star rating: ****

  11. Review by Milford Ladies Reading Group:
    Characters and venues well described, amusing in parts. Very good insight into life at that time.
    Star rating: ***

  12. Review by Goodworth Clatford WI:
    good social history of the time. Excellent characterisation. Good illustration on copies of books. Recommended good read.
    Star rating: ****

  13. Review by Andover Library:
    Generally well liked, some of us found it slow to start. Excellent characters, the story was believable. Made us debate the race question.
    Star rating: ***

  14. Review by Arle Reading Group:
    The book captures the era of 1940’s/1950’s Britain vividly through the eyes of its characters. The issues of race versus class prejudice were explored with disturbing accuracy. Not everyone enjoyed the book, but we all appreciated its skilful writing.
    Star rating:***plus

  15. Review by Andover Hearing Impaired Reading Group:
    Well written – catches attitudes of different races in post-war era very well. A good read – not least for the final chapter.
    Star rating: ***

  16. Review by Wills Way Worms
    Slow paced but an eye opener to prejudices of the time. Well written and descriptive.
    Star rating: ****

  17. Review by U3A Woolmer Forest – Book group 2
    A compact view of Caribbean and English society after the second world war. The writing depicts the endemic prejudice abounding at that time. When reading the book it felt like living in that time, the character descriptions and descriptions of language were like a painting. All the group members enjoyed the book and we would be happy to read further books by this author.
    Star rating: ****

  18. Most found it a bit long winded. However it was thought provoking and gave an insight to racial prejudice at the time.

  19. We all loved this book: we liked the structure with the different stories – so that we knew things the others didn’t. We liked the characters (except Bernard, but at least we understood why he behaved as he did.) The characters developed as the story progressed, especially Hortense. And it is very funny.
    We read this book whilst he Windrush disgrace was in the papers, and felt ashamed of how the British behaved.
    5 stars

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