Published - Review. First published in 1996, republished in 2004 after the release of Small Island which won the Whitbread Book of The Year and The Orange Prize for Fiction.
Pages - 282
Challenges - 100+, New Author, A to Z titles.
This is the story of two sisters Olive and Vivien, who are born in London to Jamaican parents and are brought up on a council estate in an area infamous to my own childhood called Finsbury Park. On the outside, the sisters appears to have similar upbringings - they live in the same house, have the same family and go to the same school. On the inside, there lives could not be more different. Vivien has the typical life of a teenager growing up in the seventies. She spends lots of time with her friends at the youth club, studying A levels and being just another one of the gang. Her sister Olive has a very different and very turbulent coming of age as she is three years older than Vivien and her skin is a lot darker. Vivien does not appear to look to have Jamaican descent, where as Olive does. She is living in a seventies London dominated by skinheads and the British National Party, who are always on the lookout for anyone deemed to be foreign.
I found this a very interesting book and I could also relate to it on a personal level. My parents grew up in Finsbury Park and we lived nearby until I was about six. I can remember London vividly from a child's perspective. Even the life discussed whilst Vivien was in school, seemed almost a mirror image of my own ten years later, apart from the skinheads, which then changed to the New Romantics.
This is one of those books which is very real and shocking in parts. Olive did not have an easy life and events happened to her just because of the colour of her skin. Olive is very jealous of her sister and I could understand why. Just because Vivien's skin is lighter and she appears more Spanish than Jamaican, she is easily accepted in to the Britain that existed then, even hanging out with skin heads by choice. Olive becomes such a hard and bitter person after all that happens and that really is her right.
The family within the book become dysfunctional after the death of the girl's father and you can't help but wonder if their home life had been more loving and forgiving, then perhaps Olive would not have become so bitter with her life's choices. However, their mother is just not the caring type and blames them for everything that goes wrong in their life. There mother also seems to be suffering from an identity crisis and maybe a little ashamed of her background. The following quotes from Olive says it all.
' My mother didn't believe in black people. Or should I say, she tried to believe she was not black.'
'She used to talk to me about what she thought of the black people here, looking me straight in the face, telling me how they were like this and like that - nothing good of course. But she sat looking in my black face telling me. And I thought if anyone looking at us sitting at the table talking had to describe the scene, they'd say, 'There are two black women talking.' But my mother thought we weren't black.'
I enjoyed the book and I have Small Island in my collection which I am looking forward to reading.
Andrea Levy has written four books so far and is presently writing her fifth. Andrea Levy writes from personal experience as her parents were Jamaican and came over in 1948 to England. Andrea grew up in a very white London, where anyone who was not seen as being British were given a hard time. A link to her website is here.
I haven't read any books similar to this, but on the back of the book they mentioned it's similarity to the books by Roddy Doyle, so if you liked reading Roddy Doyle, you will probably enjoy this.
Has anyone read any books by either Andrea Levy or Roddy Doyle? If so, do let me know what you thought about them. Also if you can recommend any books set in the seventies, I would love to know what they are.
Thanks for stopping by.