Are you between 5 and 25? If so, enter the Wicked Young Writer Awards NOW - click here for details...

books of the month
Search our site
Last Letter from Istanbul by Lucy Foley Read the opening extract of the brand new Lucy Foley book before its publication on 19/03/2018

Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small Island

Literary Fiction   Family Drama   Reading Groups   eBook Favourites   
Download an extract Discuss on Facebook Discuss this book on our Literary Contemporary Facebook group Share this book

Sarah Broadhurst's view...

A novel about racism, prejudice and injustice in the post war years in London as Jamaicans, escaping economic hardship, move to the Mother Country. Told from four characters’ points of view, it deserves all the accolades and prizes it has received. Powerful yet light in touch, humorous yet high in drama, it is a most rewarding and touching read. Won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2004 and on the 25th Jan 2005 the Whitbread 2004 overall.

If you like Andrea Levy you might also like to read books by Alan Bennett, Monica Ali and Jackie Kay.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst


Small Island by Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh's neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn't know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It's desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert's wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.


'Everything about the plot, characters and clever end twist of SMALL ISLAND [is] beautifully drawn... This is an epic book that brings the patois of Jamaicans alive, fills the world of war-torn London with amazing detail and is a great history lesson about the era when England changed forever as migrants braved bitter racism to flood her shores'
Herald Sun (Melbourne)

, 10/4/04 * Herald Sun (Melbourne) * 'Levy's story is a triumph in perspective...a triumph of poise, organisation and deep, deep character - the sort of work that can only be achieved by an experienced novelist
Age, Melbourne 17

/4/04 * Age, Melbourne * 'Funny, poignant and profoundly moving...Small Island deals with the weighty themes of empire, prejudice, love and war with such humour and compassion that Levy has been praised for her even-handedness by some, condemned for it by others
West Australian, 1

/5/04 * West Australian * '[Hortense] has guts and this portrait of her world is created with strong feeling that is subtly, and brilliantly, rendered
Sydney Morning Herald, 1

/5/04 * Sydney Morning Herald * 'A beautifully crafted, compassionate novel, well worth reading
Bulletin with Newsweek, 4

/5/04 * Bulletin with Newsweek, Australia * 'Small Island is a slyly humorous, rich feast of a book
Mail on Sunday, 17

/10/04 * Mail on Sunday * 'Very ambitious and beautifully written... in addition [it's] funny and fiercely satirical
Richard Eyre in the Guardian, 16

/6/05 * Guardian * 'Here is the book I have been waiting for... an ample, sprawling story of nearly 450 pages, mirroring an expansive inner and outer landscape, spanning two islands and three continents, and incorporating a hybrid cast of humanly idiosyncratic characters; and above all, a book in which the author, Andrea Levy, never once forgets she is telling a story, delighting us, improbably, in this nasty tale of race, with the effervescent style of Dickens

& Mail, Toronto, 12/6/04 * Globe & Mail, Toronto * 'Every scene is rich in implication, entrancing and disturbing at the same time; the literary equivalent of a switch-back ride
The Sunday Times, 29

/2/04 * The Sunday Times * '[A] moving, funny, honest novel
Elle 13

/2/04 * Elle * 'Andrea Levy gives us a new urgent take on our past
Vogue 13

/2/04 * Vogue * 'Small Island is a great read, delivering the sort of pleasure which has been the traditional stock-in-trade of a long line of English novelists. It's honest, skilful, thoughtful and important. This is Andrea Levy's big book
Guardian 14

/2/04 * Guardian * 'Small Island operates on a larger canvas than Levy's previous novels. It's neither splashy nor experimental, but for thoughtfulness & wry humour cannot be faulted
Telegraph 21

/2/04 * Telegraph * 'What a deserved winner she is. It was a very good shortlist but in my opinion Small Island stood out at the longlist stage - for its writing, its wit and the impressively light touch she brought to the subject
Minette Walters, 15

/6/04 * Minette Walters * 'Levy's must-read novel seems to gain stature with time
Sunday Express magazine, 12

/6/05 * Sunday Express magazine * 'A spellbinding story... An enthralling tour de force that animates a chapter in the history of empire
Kirkus Reviews

* Kirkus Reviews * 'Levy's book brings freshness and humour as well as indignation and pity to its survey of social and racial prejudice half a century ago
The Sunday Times, 28

/11/04 * The Sunday Times * 'Levy tactfully delves into her family history while tackling the heavy issues of prejudice, assimilation and love in the ordinary lives of Jamaican migrants
MX, Melbourne, 31

/5/04 * MX, Melbourne * 'Levy handles themes of empire, prejudice, war and love with a lightness of touch and an uplifting generosity of spirit
Age, Melbourne

* Age, Melbourne * 'It's more than a novel, it's a recreation of a largely unexplored episode of our history...the narrative voices seem so authentic that it is easy to become lost in their sometimes dark, sometimes joyous worlds
Daily Express, 15

/10/04 * Daily Express * 'A touching, eloquently written story...Andrea Levy expertly captures the turbulence of a time of momentous change
Sunday Telegraph, 17

/10/04 * Sunday Telegraph * 'The small islands of Andrea Levy's title are not Britain, Jamaica or the outlying Caribbean islands - they are the blinkered mindsets of both the hopelessly optimistic West Indians and the reflexively racist Britons who have to learn to live together both during and after the war. But Levy's concern is not to browbeat but to educate and entertain. This deserving winner of the Orange Prize never loses its wit, energy or power
Observer, 30

/10/04 * Observer * 'Levy's trinity of voices gently refutes the idea that the story of West Indian immigration has anything to do with (free) teeth or glasses
Guardian, 9

/10/04 * Guardian * 'This won the Orange prize for its insight, compassion, wealth of historical details and its cracking plot
Independent on Sunday, 11

/7/04 * Independent on Sunday * 'Levy offers her readers rich satisfaction from both story and character
The Times, 10

/7/04 * The Times * 'Small Island is an astonishing tour de force by Andrea Levy. Juggling four voices, she illuminates a little known aspect of recent British history with wit and wisdom. A compassionate account of the problems of post war immigration, it cannot fail to have a strong modern resonance
Sandi Toksvig, Orange Prize judge, 8

/6/04 * Sandi Toksvig, Orange Prize judge * 'Soon you will be enchanted. It is good enough to compete against anything written this year
Jasper Gerard, News Review, Sunday Times 13

/6/04 * Jasper Gerard, News Review, Sunday Times * 'Small Island is a brilliant picture of the dented dreams of Jamaicans in post-war Britain
Financial Times, Dec 04

* Financial Times * 'A worthy winner of the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction...Levy does not set out to preach, and her light touch, wry humour and down-to-earth, almost gossipy tone make this novel as readable as it is challenging
The Sunday Times, 19

/9/04 * The Sunday Times * 'I enjoyed SMALL ISLAND enormously and wish it every success. It conjures up so vividly the era of the 1940's and expresses so vividly through the lives of its four protagonists the conflicts and racist attitudes that existed at that time. A wonderful insight into a little understood period
Joan Bakewell

* Joan Bakewell * 'A cracking good read...I think what appealed to me most was the passion and anger in the writing all the way through, yet it was always leavened with a particularly wry sort of humour - the sort that, tho
you find yourself smiling, you at the same time realise you almost shouldn

't be'
Margaret Forster

* Margaret Forster * 'Wonderful...seamless...a magnificent achievement
Linda Grant

* Linda Grant * 'A terrific book
Alan Plater

* Alan Plater * 'Gives us a new urgent take on our past' * Vogue * 'A bevy of luminaries have garlanded Andrea Levy's fourth novel with advance praise - and it's no surprise. Using elements of her own family background, Levy has vividly animated London in the immediate aftermath of World War II... She weaves a wonderfully detailed and vibrant story
Red magazine, February 2004 issue

* Red magazine, February 2004 issue * 'What makes Levy's writing so appealing is her even-handedness. All her characters can be weak, hopeless, brave, good, bad - whatever their colour. The writing is rigorous and the bittersweet ending, with its unexpected twist, touching... People can retain great dignity, however small their island
Independent on Sunday, 25

/1/04 * Independent on Sunday * 'As full of warmth and jokes and humanity as you could wish' * Time Out * 'A work of great imaginative power' * Linton Kwesi Johnson * 'It is a work of great imaginative power which ranks alongside Sam Selvon's THE LONELY LONDONERS, George Lamming's THE EMIGRANTS and Caryl Phillips
THE FINAL PASSAGE in dealing with the experience of migration

Linton Kwesi Johnson
* Linton Kwesi Johnson * 'An impressive break-through novel

Publishing News, 23
/1/04 * Publishing News * 'An engrossing read - slyly funny, passionately angry and wholly involving' * Daily Mail * 'Never less than finely written, delicately and often comically observed, and impressively rich in detail and little nuggets of stories' * Evening Standard * 'With this funny, tender, intelligent fourth novel Andrea Levy looks set to become as commercially popular as she is critically acclaimed

's magazine, February 2004 * Sainsbury's magazine * 'I know it is a fiction, but I emerged from the book full of admiration for the patience and resilience of that generation...Levy has written one of those rare fictions that tells you things you didn't know but feel you should have known...the writing is deft and striking, without being pretentious

Sunday Herald, 8
/2/04 * Sunday Herald * 'Wonderful...seamless...a magnificent achievement' * Linda Grant * 'Explores the Caribbean experience of immigration to Britain with great sensitivity' * Independent * 'It's an engrossing read - slyly funny, passionately angry and wholly involving

Daily Mail, 6 February 2004
* Daily Mail * 'An involving saga about the changing face of Britain

Mirror, 6 February 2004
* Mirror * 'A great read...honest, skilful, thoughtful and important' * Guardian * 'A cracking good read' * Margaret Forster * 'Small Island is as full of warmth and jokes and humanity as you could wish...Such a rich saga, stuffed full of interlocking narratives

Time Out, 2 February 2004
* Time Out * What makes Levy's writing so appealing is her even-handedness. All her characters can be weak, hopeless, brave, good, bad - whatever their colour. The writing is rigorous and the bittersweet ending, with its unexpected twist, touching... People can retain great dignity, however small their island * Independent on Sunday * 'Small Island is never less than finely-written, delicately and often comically observed, and impressively rich in detail and little nuggets of stories

Evening Standard, 2 February 2004
* Evening Standard * Every scene is rich in implication, entrancing and disturbing at the same time; the literary equivalent of a switch-back ride * The Sunday Times * 'A brilliantly deft and humane account of two ordinary couples in post-war London

Evening Standard, 3 February 2004
* Evening Standard *

About the Author

Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy was born in England to Jamaican parents who came to Britain in 1948. After attending writing workshops when she was in her mid-thirties, Levy began to write the novels that she, as a young woman, had always wanted to read - entertaining novels that reflect the experiences of black Britons, which look at Britain and its changing population and at the intimacies that bind British history with that of the Caribbean.

She has written five novels, been a judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Orange Futures and the Saga Prize, and has been a recipient of an Arts Council Aw ard. Her most recent novel, The Long Song, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Author photo © Laurie Fletcher

Fellow novelist ANNE BERRY on ANDREA LEVY

Andrea Levy’s writing springs off the page at me. It is so full of energy, colour and verve. Her novel Small Island, rightly showered with awards, about the post war arrival of Caribbean immigrants to Britain and their struggle to integrate into a closed society, is a delight from start to finish.

More books by this author
Author 'Like for Like' recommendations

Loading similar books...
Loading other formats...

Book Info

Publication date

17th June 2014


Andrea Levy

More books by Andrea Levy
Author 'Like for Like'

Author's Website


Tinder Press an imprint of Headline Publishing Group


560 pages


Literary Fiction
Family Drama
Reading Groups
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



I love Lovereading because I get to read great books and then get to tell everybody how good they are.

Sally Doel

I love 'try before you buy' extracts. I love the wide range of authors & genres. I love the author info. I love books!

Judi Davies

Books of the month/debuts of the month, kids/adults, fiction/non-fiction, free prize draws and free extracts, what's not to love?

Emma Smith

Lovereading tells me about new books before they hit the shelves, lets me find other authors I may like and has great prize draws!

Sheila Dale

A great place to go to find your next literary escape, and where you don't have to judge a book by its cover!

Suzanne Beney

As for why I'd recommend Lovereading, it's simple - it's a great place to get information and reviews about new books!

Margaret Freeman

If you LOVE reading then you will love LOVEREADING! It's a 'novel' idea. Seriously though I could not recommend them enough.

Rebecca Whymark

I love the honest opinions, recommendations for every genre and every reader, wish lists and Like for Like.

Amrita Dasgupta