Left wanting more – seven, eight, nine or ten!
I was delighted to get this as an ARC from the publisher. Having appreciated Small Island, I was curious to see how Levy handled the short story genre. Reading a selection of short stories by a writer can at times be a challenging experience, because if the reader is quite a fast reader, each story may be completed too quickly, and to read several all at once is a bit like devouring a box of chocolates in one sitting – you can end up feeling a bit overindulged, and wish you’d taken longer to truly savour each gem! Also, as far as stories, rather than chocolates go, a whole bunch of short stories leaves the reader sometimes in the position of having sussed the authorial tricks, as the trajectory of shape and structure of a short story is easier to see fairly quickly.
All the stories are of high calibre, and each one is introduced by a photograph, and an introduction where she sets each within its time and place of gestation.
However, I found it was the ‘and an essay’ which most sustained my interest, where Levy charts her personal experience of being a black Briton, and her growing awareness of herself as a writer, a black writer, a Briton, and her Caribbean roots. She beautifully brings all this together, closely knitting together the fact that there is an often unexplored mutual making of identity between Britain and The Caribbean, that both made each other what they are:
But there are still countless young Britons today of Afro-Caribbean descent who have as little understanding of their ancestry and have as little evidence of their worth as I did when I was growing up. And there are countless white Britons who are unaware of the histories that bind us together. Britain made the Caribbean that my parents came from. It provided the people – black and white – who made up my ancestry. In return my ancestors, through their forced labour and their enterprise, contributed greatly to the development of modern Britain. My heritage is Britain’s story too. It is time to put the Caribbean back where it belongs – in the main narrative of British history.
My particular favourite stories of the 6 are ‘Deborah’ the exploration of how childhood ‘evil’ may begin, which was possibly a story which began to brew in the wake of James Bulger’s murder at the hands of two minors, and ‘That Polite Way That English People Have’, a story almost spinning off from A Small Island, which she was then writing, and based on her mother’s arrival in this country, from Jamaica, in 1948. It looks at class, race and how to survive and get on, and is both pointed, deftly painted and funny, making little needle like stabs through the light touch humour