The ability to turn the subject of slavery into a life-affirming entertainment

From The Telegraph:

Book In The Long Song, Andrea Levy explores her Jamaican heritage more completely than ever before. This sensational novel – her first since the Orange Prize-winning Small Island, recently adapted for the BBC – tells the life story of July, a slave girl living on a sugar plantation in 1830s Jamaica just as emancipation is juddering into action. Levy’s handling of slavery is characteristically authentic, resonant and imaginative. She never sermonises. She doesn’t need to — the events and characters speak loud and clear for themselves.

The story is expertly fashioned around a metafictional conceit. The “editor”, Thomas Kinsman, explains in his foreword that the book was written by his mother. It’s a well-worn device, but here it has such conviction and idiosyncrasy that it feels irresistibly fresh. His mother, it transpires, is July herself, and so intimate is she with her “reader” that she might be leading them around the plantation by the hand. Her Jamaican lilt, which despite her son’s careful Anglicising retains the rhythm and syntax of her dialect, is unfaltering and immersive. And her seemingly artless testimony, which scorns “ornate invention”, is a masterclass in storytelling and self-presentation.

She begins with her conception — the casual molestation of her mother Kitty by the plantation’s vile Scottish overseer. It’s an “indelicate” way to open a novel, as her son argues in one of their endearing squabbles, but it’s indicative of her petulant, assertive style that she will not apologise for it. She is a woman “possessed of a forthright tongue and little ink”, and tells the reader plainly that if we don’t like her story, we can go elsewhere.

More here.