I chose this book about immigration to post-war Britain because I had heard only good things about it from others. It has won both the Whitbread Book of the Year prize and the Best of the Best of the Orange Prize. The Orange Prize has always been a source of good books for me, and this one was no different.
Synopsis: The story is told through four central characters whose lives intertwine. Queenie is a British housewife liberated by the war, Bernard (her husband) is a British soldier out of his comfort zone keeping the peace in an India struggling for independence, Gilbert is a Jamaican recruit trying to make it in Britain and Hortense, his new wife, is struggling to reconcile the wonderful Britain she dreamed of with the reality.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
This was such a clever and well written book. It took me just over a week to read, but had I had the time, I could have devoured it within a day. The narrative technique of telling the story from four different points of view works very well and each character retains their distinctive voice and identity. I particularly enjoyed the way Levy wrote the prejudice of the British characters - they didn't know they were being prejudiced, but Levy let the reader read between the lines of the characters thoughts and pick it up for themselves. It was all very subtle, and not too far from the kinds of things people still say today. In fact the great strength of the book was it's perceptiveness.
Levy also wrote well about the experience of the Jamaican characters, Gilbert and Hortense. Having been brought up in the British empire and on tales of how wonderful the "mother country" is, as a reader you really felt for them when they actually got to Britain and were severly disappointed. Hortense with her BBC public-school accent couldn't understand the East Londoners around her. Gilbert struggled to understand why he couldn't get a job easily, having fought for Britain during the war. Both gradually became bowed down by their new experiences and were in danger of being sucked under.
I didn't see the twist coming at the end, although had I been aware that there was going to be a twist, I might have. I thought it tied together all of the stories nicely and the ending was satisfying.
Overall, even though this book has a 'historical' theme it definitely still feels relevant today, especially where I live. Highly recommended. I'll be hunting out some more Andrea Levy soon.