Thursday, 23 October 2014

Book Review: Six Stories & An Essay - Andrea Levy

Six Stories & An Essay

By Andrea Levy
Published by Tinder Press
Available in hardback and ebook
Forthcoming in paperback

As the title suggests this collection includes six shorts from Andrea Levy, the author of Small Island plus an essay on how her heritage has influenced her writing. Let me point out that the only downside to this collection is the rather drab title because inside there are some fantastic stories on the immigrant experience, soldiers fighting in WW1, and life in London council estates.

This absorbing and compelling collection is just over one hundred pages long so it will only take a matter of hours to read. I loved this collection so much that I have already gone back to read several of the stories in particular The Empty Pram which tells of a woman who has recently moved from Jamaica to England and is mistakenly accused of stealing a baby. Levy explores the ignorance of the other women and the way communication breaks down if a situation falls out of your comfort zone. I really wanted to grab the shoulders of the mothers who were accusing the Jamaican woman and shake them as I shouted 'listen to her!'

I really enjoyed the small introductions and also the full essay at the beginning of the collection. I found these interesting as Levy tells the reader the inspiration for each story as well as her decision to become a writer. These stories and Levy's writing journey shows the reader the need to embrace the culture we come from even though it may not be the norm (but then what is the norm nowadays). These are the things that make us interesting. We may try to rid ourselves of history but it will find a way of finding us again.

Six Stories & An Essay is about people and history. Levy's characters give voices to people who may not normally be represented in literature - we have the soldiers from Jamaica who serve the British Army in WW1 but then are dismissed for their heroic actions and are treated like second class citizens. There are the young children from working class backgrounds living on council estates where there is nothing to do other than punish and play with each other. The Immigration experience is explored on both sides - from the people who move to England and in Loose Change, Levy explores the behaviour of  the offspring of immigrants and way they see immigrants. Levy writes with lots of honesty and humour.

Levy says in one of her introductions, "Short stories can be as consuming as any novel," which as a writer I can agree and I can also agree with this statement from the readers point of view especially with Levy's short stories. She packs so much detail into these stories that it makes them feel like mini novels. The characters are so vivid that each one could easily have a novel told about them and in fact one of the stories eventually turned into Small Island.

It was interesting to read That Polite Way That English People Have which was written in the early stages of Levy's fantastic novel Small Island and includes the same characters. Levy explores the immigration experience in the eyes of a young woman as she moves from a hot country to a cold country, full of optimism while the people around her are jaded. The themes of the novel are being formed in this short story and I can see why Levy decided to expand this into a novel as the short story is rich with details.

You should go and buy this book today, find your favourite reading chair and settle down to some great stories.

You can buy a copy of Six Stories & an Essay from your favourite bookshop from today.

Thank you to Bookbridgr.com for the review copy.

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