Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Man Booker The Long Song

So....was this another winner by Andrea Leavy.....?

But I'm ahead of myself...I'm blaming it on the raging virus that I have at the moment, not on any failure in my writing skills. Naturally.

The story itself is predictable- how could a tale about a slave in Jamaica be anything else? Young July, taken from her mother by the plantation owner's sister and re-named Marguerite, is trained as a lady's maid. A tale of brutality. A tale of humanity. That of the slaves, of course, not that of the owners...and yet...and yet....I hate to admit this but time again I found myself feeling sorry for Miss Caroline. She really was a fish out of water.

Widowed young herself, Caroline finds herself in the care of her soon-to-be-widowed brother. Even before grief overcomes him he is not overly solicitous of his sister's needs and feelings and she is left to fall upon her own (scant) resources as she attempts to be mistress of Amity, the plantation upon which she and July both must live out their years.In the tumultuous years that follow, as slavery is finally outlawed and in the years that come after, July and Caroline rub along as best they can, despite July being forced to give up a son in order to stop Caroline 'selling him away.' July runs rings around her (stupid)mistress to the point where at times there was something of characature going on in the text. Some of these years were not bad to July, in as far as one can say that about being a slave, and she consolidates her position to the point where it becomes clearer and clearer that Caroline is Mistress of Amity in name only.

I was by turns perplexed, horrified, sorrowful and greatly amused. The complete self-centredness and lack of empathy displayed by the white characters was astounding, yet at the same time quite believable. Whatever my feelings for the characters during the book, by the end of it Caroline and the other plantation owners are found to be simply loathsome.

And what of July? It is clear from the beginning of the novel that July survives and is no longer a slave. But I found the end of The Long Song both too long and too short (I like to be difficult). The end of the book concentrates on what happened to her son. I found I wasn't interested in that- well, to be precise, I wanted to know more about what had happened to July in these latter years and less about her son.

Apart from the last few chapters, this book had me gripped. As I said at the start, there aren't many surprises to be had in a story about slavery, yet this had 'Aha!' moments scattered thtoughout. I was really interested in what befell July and at times almost found myself chiding her, questioning her responses and actions

Scores on the doors- 8.5 out of 10

EDIt: After some mulling over, I'm reducing this to a 6 out of 10. I know it made the shortlist, but I really don't think it should've.


  1. Bit of a cliche, then?

  2. Definitely, but an enjoyable one. With hindsight, I still wouldn't have bought it if it wasn't on the Longlist but it was easy to get through.

  3. So, the prize is doing its job: selling books which otherwise wouldn't be anything special?

  4. I detect a note of cynicism there... but I think you may well be right. Am I a victim, I ask myself? Probably....

  5. One for the library list then. My daughter liked Lemons and Small Island so will probably enjoy this one too.