Review: The Long Song by Andrea Levy

The Long Song

by Andrea Levy

The Long Song is Andrea Levy’s first novel in six years, following the critically acclaimed and award-winning Small Island.

Told by July, a slave girl born on a Jamaican sugar plantation in the nineteenth century, this is the story of her life during and after the last years of slavery:

‘You do not know me yet.  My son Thomas, who is printing this book, tells me it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages.  As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed.

July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides – far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse.

Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. All this wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a novel they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves.

This is a very rare and captivating book, the author has exquisitely captured the mannerisms, era, and personalities of the characters. The story begins before July was born and follows her life until she lives with her son and his family. July is the narrator of the story and as such is the main character. It tells of the hardships of slavery and life in general in the mid 1800’s, the experiences feel genuine as the author retells the story in their voices and general ‘speak’, for example ‘Me no steal, massa, me no steal.’ And, ‘Oh, yes. Miss Clara be me good-good friend, good-good friend.’ This style of writing was hard for me to adjust to but certainly did the story justice and I’m glad that I persevered with it.

The narrative did jump around a bit, but this was generally explained by the author (July) before or after the chapter, she comes across as a cheeky lady, who has experienced many things and lived a hard life but managed to come out the other side quite well balanced with her sense of humour remarkably intact.

This is not a light read or a feel good story but tells of a life during a troubled time, it is told with candor, respect and at times a touch of humour. It is a moving story and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a gripping story with a bit of bite.

Recommended Retail Price $32.99

Published by: Headline Review

Recommended Age: 18+

My Rating: 4/5


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