Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Long Song by Andrea Levy

The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Hamish Hamilton 2010)

Set in the Jamaica of the early nineteenth century, the Long Song is the memoir of Miss July, a woman born into slavery on the Amity plantation. July is plucked from her mother as a young child by Caroline Mortimer, the sister of the master of the plantation, to be her attendant up at the house where she is renamed Marguerite. When rumour spreads that the King of England has freed all the slaves of Jamaica, the Baptist Revolt begins. Retribution from the plantation owners is swift and violent but the path to freedom  is too far advanced.

When Caroline's brother dies, the English and devoutly religious Robert Goodwin comes into the fray. After falling in love (or in lust) for Miss July, he marries Caroline so he can keep July close and the love triangle begins. However, Robert's abolitionist principles are put sorely to the test when his interest change from humanitarian to business and one soon sees that the end of slavery only worked to move the black population of Jamaica from a legal bondage to an economic one.

The story is supposed to be one of a woman with a big character who overcomes some rather extreme adversity and passes plain spoken judgement on a rather dark period of history but I don't feel that July's character was developed well enough to bring about the requisite empathy required of the reader. Her escapades throughout the book make you cast doubt on her moral centre, and okay she is a slave with little or no education but how are you supposed to feel concern for a character that you aren't convinced enough to even like? There are moments of humour and moments of pretty graphic violence but the lack of connection with the main character makes you watch it all as a pretty disinterested observer.