Now that my novel Her Own Vietnam is out in the world, I’m going back to writing about 30 Women Novelists You Should Know. We’ve reached the halfway mark with Britain’s Andrea Levy.
How many ways can you say “wow!”?
Andrea Levy has won so many literary prizes in England, it’s as if they ran out of superlatives to use when describing her work. Her 2004 book Small Island won not only the Whitbread Novel award, but the Whitbread Book of the Year award. Not only did it receive the Orange Prize for Fiction, it also won the Orange Prize ‘Best of the Best’ award.
Four voices, four futures
As far as I’m concerned, the novel deserves all of these accolades and more. It’s a beautiful and powerful story of two couples in England in the years after World War II.
Hortense and Gilbert are Jamaican immigrants who had been taught to consider England their mother country, and are shocked by the hostile welcome they receive. Queenie is a white working class woman who married Bernard to escape her destiny working on the family pig farm, and then found London and her husband to be not at all what she expected. The novel is told from the point of view of all four characters, as the major issues of their (and our) time – war, immigration, race, the personal courage to do the right thing – shape their lives and their world in unimaginable ways.
A faithful TV adaptation
The BBC adapted Small Island into a two-part television miniseries. It was one of the most faithful novel-to-TV adaptations I’ve seen. Watching it felt like revisiting the book. I think the care the producers took in adapting the book is reflected in the similarity between the original cover for the novel (L) and the cover image for the video (R).
More books to come
Andrea Levy started to write when she was in her thirties. Today, in her fifties, she has written four other novels in addition to Small Island, as well as two collections of short stories, many of which also won important literary prizes. I’m excited to think about all the Andrea Levy books still to be read.