“A tale of my making”

by Nicholas Laughlin on July 28, 2010

Andrea Levy

Go to any shelf that groans under a weight of books and there, wrapped in leather and stamped in gold, will be volumes whose contents will find you meandering through the puff and twaddle of some white lady’s mind. You will see trees aplenty, birds of every hue and oh, a hot, hot sun residing there. That white missus will have you acquainted with all the many tribulations of her life upon a Jamaican sugar plantation before you have barely opened the cover. Two pages upon the scarcity of beef. Five more upon the want of a new hat to wear with her splendid pink taffeta dress. No butter but only a wretched alligator pear again! is surely a hardship worth the ten pages it took to describe it. Three chapters is not an excess to lament upon a white woman of discerning mind who finds herself adrift in a society too dull for her. And as for the indolence and stupidity of her slaves (be sure you have a handkerchief to dab away your tears), only need of sleep would stop her taking several more volumes to pronounce upon that most troublesome of subjects.

And all this particular distress so there might be sugar to sweeten the tea and blacken the teeth of the people in England. But do not take my word upon it, peruse the volumes for yourself. For I have. And it was shocking to have so uplifting an act as reading invite some daft white missus to belch her foolishness into my head. So I will not worry myself for your loss if it is those stories you require. But stay if you wish to hear a tale of my making.

— From the opening chapter of The Long Song, Andrea Levy’s latest novel, a short excerpt from which appears on the author’s website. The Long Song, set on a sugar plantation in Emancipation-era Jamaica, is on the longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, announced yesterday. (The shortlist will follow in September and the winner will be announced in October.)

Though born in London, Levy is the daughter of Jamaican parents who emigrated to Britain on the Empire Windrush in 1948. (Her best-known novel, Small Island — which itself won a handful of important literary awards — tells the story of Hortense and Gilbert, Jamaican migrants in postwar London.) She’s apparently the bookies’ favourite to win this year’s Booker. Your Antilles blogger hasn’t yet got his hands on a copy of The Long Song, but you can read a couple of reviews in the UK Guardian and the New Statesman.

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