Bitches Book Club Review :: The Long Song

A bit about the Book Club:

Nicole: I feel like I should explain the Book Club a little bit before just jumping straight into this post. At the end of May I was feeling sort of “meh” about the Goodreads book clubs I’m part of. No offence meant to them at all! I like them. But they’re just so BIG that the books I’m particularly interested in don’t often (read: ever?) get picked and there doesn’t feel like there’s enough incentive to take part sometimes. I wanted something that was smaller so, even if I’m not super jazzed about every single book, I feel motivated to read each one because I knew the other member(s) of the book club are reading too and because of the discussion that will ensue.

SO, of course, I voice messaged Claire about it and we decided on a book within the hour!

How it works is that one of us will pick the book one month and the other will pick the book for the next month.

DividerThis Last month (July), was Claire’s choice: The Long Song by Andrea Levy.

Nikki and I had the same version for once!

Book: The Long Song by Andrea Levy
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
Genre: Literary Fiction/ Caribbean

Summary: You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed. July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides – far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse. Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. All this he wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a novel they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves
More Information: GoodReads

Claire’s Thoughts & Rating:

OK, so I chose this for July and the review is quite late, yes but let me first say that I expected a bit more from this book.

I’m a big fan of Caribbean literature and I’ve heard many great things from this author, some might be more familiar with her other works: Small Island or Fruit of the Lemon, and I know she has a bit of a fan following in the UK. Small Island and A Long Song have both been made into tv series/ films so, as you get the point, it’s popular.

Let me first start with what I did like: the book doesn’t shy away from horror or discomfort. I am a fan of July and her brief moments are those that I cherish the most in the book. Levy is obviously a very good writer and she is unafraid and bold, I have to admire that in a book that details the cruelty and injustice of slavery. It isn’t an easy topic and Levy doesn’t play shy, you have to respect that! (Nikki, agree? eh?).

Now, unfortunately, I will start with what I didn’t enjoy so much. First was the inclusion of Jamaican dialect, it sounded forced and unconvincing. I don’t say this as someone who grew up hearing dialect, but reading it in my head it sounded massively stilted. When author Stacey Ann Chin does it (a biography that I have reviewed in the past), it flowed and was melodic, indeed, Jamaican creole is massively melodic and emotional and intuitive (it is so sing-songy). It just didn’t work for me. I’m not sure how Nikki felt about it so I am massively interested in hearing her thoughts on this!

Second, it’s just not the most engaging or quick read. I know I picked this book, mostly because I felt like I needed to broaden my literary horizons this year (as you’ll see in next week’s post when I chart my progress in my challenges, they’ve pretty much been all fantasy books by men, a few women and predominately Anglo). I don’t think I thought enough about it, I’m a quick reader and I couldn’t enjoy it quickly and Nikki, who isn’t a quick reader, might find it too slow as well! We’ll see (I don’t read her reviews till they come out, so I can have the pleasure of gasping and commenting, mwuahaha).

Claire’s favourite line(s):

“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live”

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Nicole’s Thoughts & Rating:

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: This is all going to sound REALLY harsh, but I don’t hate the book. I just didn’t like it. And in my efforts to be accurate about my feelings, I think this is probably going to sound like a really intense barrage of hatred because I don’t have any good points to pull out… But I didn’t hate it and I hold no grudges against it.

Oooookay. I was looking forward to this book because I want to read more Caribbean books because I haven’t really read many. But I do have some reservations that are difficult to put into words.

This was a tough read for me. So tough that (and I feel horrible about this) I just could not finish it… But it was not all a loss! As with many books that I disliked, I learned a lot of things about my tastes and critique often brings out interesting discussion.

First, let’s take a look at the first set of notes I made while I was reading:

long song notes

20 pages of reiteration UPON reiteration UPON reiteration UPON reiteration…..

We weren’t off to the best start, so let’s just jump straight in the deep end.

I really hate the way this book is written. If you can’t break the fourth wall well (few can), then don’t. Just don’t. I hate when books constantly address to reader: So, reader, you will have to forgive my long boring story because… It immediately takes me out of the story. She describes her writing the story and talking to her son or whatever and stories within stories are also not my favourite…I think they can be done okay, but it’s hard to please me on either of those fronts.

I also have to just come out and say, once and for all: I’m not into slavery stories. It’s not because I find them shocking or anything. I find them boring. I know the stories. I can image all manner of slave story possibilities. I have yet to come across one that surprised me at all in any way. I’m under no misconceptions about it not being as tough as it was. I know about the rapes. I know about the house slaves. I know about the passers. I know about the hard trials in the fields. I know about the black slave masters and overseers. I know about the torture punishments. I know about the splitting up of families. I know about the squalid living conditions. I know about the “people treated worse than vermin” aspects of things. Find me a slavery story that has something new to show me and I will give you a unicorn swimming in a leprechaun’s bowl of gold coins. That said, I think it’s clear there are a lot of people out there who are obviouslypainfully unaware of the things that happened during those times. I think it’s hard as f*ck to get a slavery story right and this one didn’t do it for me. (I can’t actually think of a book or film or anything that has…)

I felt the violent slavery bits in this elicited no emotion in me. It all felt detached and just for show. I felt like I was being patronised. I don’t know how to fix this.

I thought the writing overall was poor and the fake ‘old timey’ talk was cringey and clumsy. I don’t know how many times she said the word “upon”, but I can tell you now that I read a lot of classics from actual “old times” and I can’t recall coming across the word “upon” even once. It feels out of place. Anachronistic. Inauthentic. Forced.

Sort of related to the “upon” thing: I have no idea what was going on with the way everyone spoke! What? I don’t know. It was like some of the sentence was in sort of a non-Caribbean person’s idea of a Caribbean accent and the rest was written normally… It makes for choppy, awkward speech.

And that’s how I feel about the book on the whole; it just felt inauthentic and forced. I think it works better as a comedy than anything else. But even then, it was too flat and slow and stilted because of the constant fourth-wall-breaking and narrator talking-to-her-son gimmick to hold my attention.

I’m a fairly slow reader and, while I don’t actually mind slow stories, it can’t be a painful read. I will not be picking up any more of Ms Levy’s books. She and I just…we’re not meant for each other.

Despite all my qualms with it, this book was nominated for a Man Booker Prize in 2010. I hope that wasn’t just a token nomination (though I sure don’t understand it otherwise…), but it’s worth knowing that there are literary bodies out there who think much more highly of this book than I do. You might love it.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Nicole’s Favourite Line:

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Have you read this book?

If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you want to?

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About Claire (BWB)

It's Claire (aka Quirky) from Bitches With Books, an online book blog that serves up a healthy dose of book reviews, lists + literary madness.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, International and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Bitches Book Club Review :: The Long Song

  1. Pingback: 2015 Reads | Bitches With Books

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  4. I haven’t read this one but your reviews are hilarious! I like that you explain it all very well and at the same time, amusing and intriguing. Amazing reviews, Claire and Nikki!

    • Claire (BWB) says:

      Thank youuuu ♡ I’m super chuffed that you find us funny. We’re super dry individually but together, super powers abound! I wouldn’t read it tbh. If you want a Caribbean read, grab something by Jamaica Kincaid!

  5. moosha23 says:

    Haven’t read this one, but it was interesting reading your reviews! I DNF-d Small Island – mainly because of how plastic the characters seemed to me, and like Nicole said the stories seem predictable. Around the same time I got my hands on Half a Yellow Sun, but it – while really vibrant – just seemed like the same narrative. One “slave story” I absolutely fell in love with is Beloved by Toni Morrison mostly because of how raw and demanding it is of the reader. It’s the book that surprised me – I wonder if you guys have read it?

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