Fri 15 November 2019
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Small Island by Andrea Levy
Guardian Book Club Week One: The Back Story

The opening sentence of the back-cover blurb for the paperback edition of Andrea Levy's Small Island is misleading: "It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war." Though, after a brief prologue, the novel does indeed open in 1948, in London, and ends only a few weeks later, most of the book in fact describes what has happened to its main characters before this time. The first sentence of the first chapter epitomises the narrative's gravitational pull: "It brought it all back to me." This is Hortense, newly arrived in London from Jamaica, standing at the front door of the shabby lodging house in Earls Court where her husband, Gilbert, is staying. Seeing the big front door and the bell push (which does not work), she remembers her boastful friend Celia, back in Jamaica: "Hortense, in England I will have a big house with a bell at the front door and I will ring the bell." Celia, of course, does not quite understand what a doorbell is for.
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