December 19th, 2010

ocean witch, book witch

Book 135: The Long Song by Andrea Levy

Book 135: The Long Song.
Author: Andrea Levy, 2010.
Genre: Historical Fiction. 19th Century Jamaica.
Other Details: Hardback, 336 pages, and unabridged audio read by the author. Duration: 11 hour and 20 min.

You do not know me yet.  My son Thomas, who is publishing 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.’ - Miss July, The Long Song.

Through this engaging voice, Andrea Levy weaves together strands of tragedy and sorrow, of love, hope and humour. This final aspect may seem out of place in a novel dealing with such a serious topic but that it does is a testimony to Levy's skill as a story-teller and her sensitivity to the subject. Although grounded in historical sources, Levy did not seek to write an epic chronicle of the period; rather she has created a novel that feels quite intimate: one voice, one story among the many that could be told.

Levy manages to capture the day-to-day lives and the humanity of all parties and to convey, without too much exposition, the economics and culture of slavery that had been of part of Jamaican society for almost 300 years. Levy includes a poignant scene, based on historical fact, as a group made up of former slaves, a local minister and other sympathisers hold a mock funeral to bury a coffin filled with shackles and chains and the sign 'Colonial slavery died 31 July 1838, Age 276 years.'

Miss July often breaks the fourth wall, addressing the reader and sometimes is very playful with events in the narrative. This makes her technically an unreliable narrator, though she gives fair warning of this in the novel's opening pages. The language of the book is simple and beautiful, drawing on the cadences of Jamaican patois yet remaining accessible both on the written page and to the ear. While I read the book first, I also had the opportunity to then listen to its audiobook, read by Andrea Levy. She has an extremely rich voice and did a superb job of bringing her narrator to life.

Given all the above praise, it hardly needs to be said that I loved this book from first page to last as I fell under the beguiling spell of Miss July. It has also been very well received by critics and readers in the UK. The novel was short-listed for the 2010 Man Booker prize and has been chosen as one of the books for the UK's Channel 4 TV Book Club in January 2011. In addition, it will be the January selection for The Guardian Book Club .

Andrea Levy's website - has her essay on the writing of the novel and link to excerpt.

44 - 48 and 19-20 Audio


44. The Diviner's Tale - (12/4) - Bradford Morrow 320p
2/5 review behind the link

45. Lolita - (12/10) - Vladimir Nabokov 336p

There were so many things which could have been turn-offs for me with this book: Paragraphs running multiple pages, French not translated into English, mostly narrative, little dialog. Yet, I blew right by all those things enthralled.

What a GREAT book. Wow. The writing is spectacular, it's dark and funny. I will definitely read more Nabokov.

I never knew the term "unreliable narrator" until this year, and this book fits it brilliantly. I LOVE unreliable narrators, and now really want to read everything I can with that designation. Humbert Humbert is the quintessential though.

SPOILERS FOR PEOPLE UNFAMILIAR WITH THIS STORY (though I find that a tinge hard to imagine.)

What struck me with this book is how we truly never really had a clear POV from anybody but H.H. All the impressions about how Lolita felt about things came from him. Even if he said she looked at him with loathing or something, it was more his projection than reality so here was this character whom this whole novel was based on, but that we really didn't know in the least. f she felt a victim of rape/incest (which one would have to presume) why did she stay so long? I know it was different times, but it seems she could have gotten away. Did she actually initiate their relations? He certainly made it sound like she was a willing participant.

Initially there was such incredible suspense in his desire, but as time went out you just had to wonder what it was he saw in her. He certainly seemed realistic about the kind of person she was. Well, not really a person, child. Yet his love for her was relentless.

46. The End of Alice - (12/12)- A.M. Homes (re-read)

(My original review behind the link, my thoughts on re-read here)

5/5 plus a favorite

It's not often I re-read a book, less often that I re-read it in the same year I read it. However, after finishing Lolita, I wanted to read this again.

While reading Lolita I felt that this book was sort of Lolita redux, but it actually wasn't. Where Nabokov's writing was luxurious, this writing is raw. Way more graphic. For me, a tinge more provocative. There are certainly parallel themes, and I feel in some way this book must have been a nod to Lolita, but I haven't been able to find any information on it.

Still loved it. It's a very fast read, and on my second pass I'd have to say I'd be even more reluctant to recommend it to people. But it's an astonishing work.

47. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name: A Novel (P.S.) - (12/13) - Vendela Vida 256p

This was a quick read, little more than a novella really. It was quite astmospheric with stark prose. The perfect book for a few hours on the couch on a gloomy day.

I'd say it's mostly a daughter's seach for her heritage, and it takes the reader WAY North to Lapland. There was just enough about the culture of the area to make it interesting. It had a slight mystery and some humor here and there, and a tiny bit of an edge.

I really enjoyed it.

48. Columbine - (12/19) - Dave Cullen 464p


Review behind the link

Two bummer audios:

19. I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas - Lewis Black 2/5 stars
(review behind the link)

20. The Scorch Trials - James Dashner 2/5 stars

i didn't love The Maze Runner. I liked this even less. I found it boring, and lacking that something special. Everything feels "forced."

I mean, the "bad guys" in this book are called WICKED. Which stands for:

World In Catastrophe Killzone Experiment D


So that's in for me. A lot of people really like this series; there's probably something I'm missing. I wouldn't let my thoughts on it turn you off if it appeals to you.

My complete list can be seen here

comma splicing

Books 46-50

46. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (historical fantasy) - ????
47. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (historical fantasy) - ????
48. Black Powder War by Naomi Novik (historical fantasy) - ????
49. Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik (historical fantasy) - 18 Dec 2010
I admit I may have a soft spot for historical fiction/fantasy, but I believe I'd have delighted in this book even without that bias. Novik's built up an excellent setting, wherein she reinvents the Napoleonic wars by adding fleets of dragons and their crews to the conflict. The series follows Naval captain Laurence, who quite accidentally becomes the captain of a very rare dragon, whom he gives the name Temeraire after a handsome ship. Temeraire-the-dragon is sometimes too clever for his own good, and more than once gets his beloved captain into trouble with his somewhat naïve idealism, but he is also fiercely protective and a passable strategist. They are, nevertheless, something of an odd pair, and circumstances find them on equally, if not more, odd adventures that take them across much of the world. It is interesting to note that while the dragons of England's Aerial Corps are not (by the English understanding) mistreated, as the series progresses the relationships between dragons and captains in the English system is contrasted to those in other cultures, and the comparison is rarely in the English's favor, causing Laurence some emotional distress.
I would highly recommend this series to anyone the least fond of dragons; this is a very down-to-earth look at them, where they actually have biology and practical matters such as how they might be fed and housed when kept in larger numbers are seen to.

50. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd (graphic novel, dystopia)
I'm bending my own rules and counting this even though it's a graphic novel and I don't normally count graphic novels. Because V for Vendetta is a lot heavier reading than most such, very much seeming to place the emphasis on "novel". I picked it up back when the movie was in theatres, got the Swedish edition by mistake, but it's still a very impressive, if sometimes confusing work.
My main issue with it is that I have trouble telling the characters apart sometimes. This is in all likelihood a failing on my part rather than on Lloyd's, as the art fits the feel of the comic quite excellently. I just struggle with realistically portrayed characters. The article about the comic's origins that was included in my editions was also rather interesting.