Set in a narrative fiction, The Long Song is the story of a Jamaican slave, Miss July, told at the request of her adult son – a proprietor of a publishing house. Miss July is a reluctant teller, but she certainly has a voice to savor with a charm all her own. We learn through her story that she was the product of a slave girl, Kitty, and the plantation overseer, Tam Dewar. As a child, she was snatched up into the plantation house and trained as a ladies maid and companion to the owner’s sister, Caroline Mortimer.
Having read and loved Levy’s Small Island, I was anxious to read this work of fiction. For me, The Long Song did not disappoint. Some of my Goodreads friends did not care for this book – Levy’s characters were accused of being insipid and the tone too light for such a serious subject matter. I appreciated hearing those comments ahead of time, and I read with a thought as to why the author might portray her characters the way she did. Miss July really came alive for me. In fact, she reminded me of a woman I have known and loved. She is charming and mischievous; and yes, she had a hard life, but she didn’t want to dwell on the tragedies. I felt that Levy understood that a real person, reluctantly telling a story so full of sadness, might want to downplay the bad events. To dwell on them would be to give into the despair, rather than showing that she had been able to come through it as a survivor.
Levy presents a novel that is well-researched – including the language used by Jamaican slaves (as is evidenced in her lengthy resource list at the conclusion of the book). She also shows a bit of the origins of the Jamaican class system, which currently favors lighter-skinned blacks.
In addition to all that, The Long Song is a moving and uplifting tale of a people who are able to retain dignity in the midst of enslavement. I can see why it was a finalist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.
4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2010