Posted on | August 11, 2010 | 9 Comments
I apologise for my thoughts on this book at the very outset. I’m going through a bit of a stressful phase right now, and while normally, it doesn’t affect the way I approach books, I’m not completely convinced that it hasn’t this time ’round. I mean, The Long Song was longlisted for the Orange Prize, and it’s on the Booker longlist as well. It’s got to be a good book, right?
Well, I didn’t finish it, and it wasn’t for lack of trying! I put it aside at 150 pages – my edition had 308 pages, so I did read about half of the book, and it failed to engage me at any level. Strange, because the subject matter is intense and well, more often than not, I end up empathising and sympathising with the protagonists and narrators of such stories. This time – absolutely nothing.
Set in the early nineteenth century, this book focuses on the final days of slavery in Jamaica. The primary voice is that of July, a slave born on the sugar plantation called Amity, after her mother was raped by the overseer of the plantation. July was separated from her mother, Kitty, when the plantation owner’s sister, Caroline, found her utterly charming and wanted to groom her to be a lady’s maid. Caroline, new to Jamaica and the rampant slavery, depended much on July, and the slave girl often took advantage of her mistress’ dependence.
Personally, I thought that the writing lacked the intensity that the subject matter deserves, and almost treated the subject frivolously. I also did cringe, occasionally, on reading some of the lines, although I’m willing to bet that Levy intended to have that effect on the reader.
“Stuff up her mouth with rags, come on, come on,” he insisted once more. Rose took a rag, dipping it in the water from the pail and brushed it against Kitty’s lips. But Tam Dewar, exhaling with annoyance, commanded, “Not like that!” He snatched at the rag that Rose held, then forced the damp cloth down into Kitty’s mouth. “Like this, you fool, like this.”
Rose protested, “Massa, she birthin’, she birthin’!” as Kitty choked to accommodate the bulk of cloth in her mouth.
I don’t think I got used to the style of writing either, where the narrator constantly addressed me as “Reader,” and it switched between first person (present) and third person (past). And, I really didn’t care what happened to the characters – who survived, who didn’t.
Maybe I’m being harsh, but despite the writing being simple, I found reading this book a chore, and didn’t feel inclined to pick it up. I wish I’d finished this book, to see what the end objective was – and maybe, just maybe, the second half of the book would end up redeeming itself. Have you read this book? Do you think the second half is better/more engrossing than the first?
Have you read Levy’s Small Island? I think it’s her most talked about book. Would you recommend that over her latest?