Posts Tagged ‘jamaica’

Small Island tells the tale of four people before, during and after World War II, and deals with issues of racism, family and love.  Queenie Bligh’s husband Bernard went off to fight in the war and by 1948 still hasn’t returned.  Queenie has no idea where he is, or even if he is dead or alive.  To help make ends meet she has taken in lodgers, one of whom is Gilbert Joseph, a Jamaican man who fought for Britain in the war.  Queenie’s neighbours are outraged that she is allowing black lodgers into her home, but Queenie herself is more tolerant.  Gilbert’s wife Hortense, an educated and snobbish woman comes to Britain to join her husband and fulfil her dreams of a big house in the beautiful countryside, but the reality is very different.  She is living in one cramped and dirty room, in a neighbourhood where she is unwelcome because of her colour – and she is discovering that she does not really like – or even know – her husband.

The tales of these characters, and a fourth character of Queenie’s husband Bernard, are interwoven beautifully.  The story is gripping and entirely believable.  The scenes of both blatant and casual racism are disturbing and shocking to read (the casual racism sometimes more so than the blatant).  The hypocrisy of human nature, as well as the strengths of individuals, is also well depicted.

All four characters take it in turns to narrate the story, and the narrative switches from ‘Before’ (the war) and 1948, which is the present day in the story.  However, it never becomes confusing, and each character is distinct and fully fleshed out.  Queenie and Gilbert are the most sympathetic characters (to me anyway), while I found it difficult to warm to Bernard.  Hortense was possibly the most interesting however, and the viewer is taken from her early dreams to her shock that gradually comes over her as she discovers – as Gilbert did months earlier – that black faces are not welcome in Britain, although many black people fought for Britain in the war.

The ending was excellent, and really brought all the threads together.  There were a few surprises at the conclusion, but all of them fitted in well with the story.

The book won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2004 and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in 2005.  I am not surprised in the least at the acclaim it received.  Without hesitation I would recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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London 1940, and Pyke, hero (of sorts) of this series is in debtors jail, having squandered his fortune.  His erstwhile friend Fitzroy Tilling – now a senior figure in the New Police, makes Pyke an offer – he will let him get out of prison early, if Pyke will investigate the murder of a mixed-race woman whose mutilated body has been found in one of the rougher areas of London.  A wealthy aristocrat has also been murdered and all of the Police Force’s energies are being used to solve that matter, hence the reason that Tilling has called Pyke in.

Pyke accepts the job, but quickly realises that there is far more to the case than it initially appears.  His investigation takes him from smog-filled London, to the beautiful plains of Jamaica, as he uses all of his cunning, intelligence, and often violence and threats, to unravel the story.

Meanwhile, Pyke’s son Felix is now 10 years old, but these days he seems to be resentful and rebellious towards his father, and Pyke desperately wants to repair their relationship.  A murder investigation can only hamper his efforts due to the amount of his time he invests, but he is determined to solve the mystery.

This is the third book in the Pyke series.  It isn’t necessary to have read the preceding two books, although it helps as Pyke’s character is developed throughout the stories.  Here, he is in a more contemplative mood as he gets older and considers the results that his actions may have on his son.  However, he has lost none of his tendency to violence and intimidation – but he does seem to have a more sharpened sense of right and wrong, and seems to judge himself more harshly.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but the second one was something of a disappointment (though still a good read) with it’s over-complicated story.  This book is a return to form.  While there are plenty of twists, turns, red herrings and dead ends, the story is a lot tighter than the events of ‘The Revenge of Captain Paine’ (book 2),and I found it a to be a great story.

As always, London’s atmosphere is brought to life, and I also enjoyed the description of the Jamaica plains.  The part of the story set in Jamaica was probably my favourite part – Pyke encounters hostility from the recently emancipated former black slaves, and finds himself questioning his own beliefs.  Andrew Pepper always seems able to provide plenty of description while never letting go of the story itself.  The ending of the story came as a real shock, and I certainly could not have predicted what would happen.

As well from Pyke himself, there are the usual dangerous underworld criminals, and Pyke’s family and friends.  He is the only really developed character, but the character of Felix is starting to grow nicely and I hope that he will feature in the ensuing books in the series.

Not one for the faint hearted, this is a fast moving and sometimes gruesome story which delves into the world of prostitution and illegal pornography.  There is a great murder mystery as the main thread of the book, and I would certainly recommend this book to fans of crime thrillers.

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