life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Review: Small Island

Small IslandSmall Island by Andrea Levy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Andrea Levy uses words the way a surgeon uses a scalpel - with fine precision designed to cut away everything that isn't story. The spareness of this technique takes a bit of adjustment, especially for someone like me who appreciates paragraphs filled with adjectives that fill in all the gaps and leave no room for guesswork or imagination. But don't get me wrong. The characters are set carefully on the stage and allowed to tell the story in their own words, leaving out details that escaped them, that may or may not be later filled in from the point of view of another character.

The tale here is one of history, and the intertwined lives of two couples - one black, one white - set during the hellish time of German attacks on British daily life during the second World War. Although the language is sparse, the details come through in the reactions and observations of Gilbert, Hortense, Queenie, and finally, Bernard. Alternately concerning and enlightening, you will find it difficult to leave the story at its logical end, even after five hundred pages. These people will live on, hauntingly changing what you thought you knew about race and social justice in mid-twentieth century Britain. And that, my friends, is the mark of an excellent work of fiction.

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