The Long Song A Novel

Andrea Levy




Trade Paperback

352 Pages


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Winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Andrea Levy reinvents the historical novel with her novel The Long Song, a tale of slavery and freedom in colonial Jamaica told in the intimate voice of Miss July, with some editorial assistance from her son, Thomas. The child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation, July lives with her mother until Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow, decides to move her into the great house and rename her "Marguerite."

Resourceful and mischievous, July soon becomes indispensable to her mistress. Together they live through the bloody Baptist war, followed by the violent and chaotic end of slavery. Taught to read and write so that she can help her mistress run the business, July remains bound to the plantation despite her "freedom." It is the arrival of a young English overseer, Robert Goodwin, that will dramatically change life in the great house for both July and her mistress. Prompted and provoked by her son's persistent questioning, July's resilience and heartbreak are gradually revealed in this extraordinarily powerful story of slavery, revolution, freedom, and love.


Praise for The Long Song

"When you add Levy's almost Dickensian gifts for dialogue and storytelling to her humorous detachment, her ability to see race hatred as yet another twist of the English class system, it's easy to understand why she has become something of a celebrity in Britain. In The Long Song, Levy turns her attention to the final days of slavery in early-19th-century Jamaica. Packaged with a preface and an afterword purporting to have been written by Mr. Thomas Kinsman, a well-to-do black printer living in Jamaica in 1898, and occasionally punctuated by editorial suggestions from that long-suffering man, the novel is presented as the memoirs of his octogenarian mother, Miss July, who was born into slavery on a sugar plantation known as Amity . . . In The Long Song, she has painted a vivid and persuasive portrait of Jamaican slave society, a society that succeeded with bravery, style and strategic patience both to outsmart its oppressors and to plant the seeds of what is today a culture celebrated worldwide."—Fernanda Eberstadt, The New York Times Book Review

"Andrea Levy's insightful and inspired fifth novel, The Long Song, reminds us that she is one of the best historical novelists of her generation. By employing a charming metafictional conceit—a printer is publishing the memoir of his mother, July—we witness the extraordinary life of a woman who lived as a slave in Jamaica during the 19th century . . . Levy's previous novel, Small Island, is rightly regarded as a masterpiece, and with The Long Song she has returned to the level of storytelling that earned her the Orange Prize in 2004 . . . One of the most complex and revealing moments in The Long Song is the dinner party in which the servants are told to prepare an English-style Christmas feast, though few of the menu items are available . . . The Long Song is a novel for those who believe that the story of a single woman is a story of the ages, for those who understand that a slave woman's history is history, indeed."—Tayari Jones, The Washington Post

"As well as providing a history of post-abolition Jamaica, The Long Song is beautifully written, intricately plotted, humorous and earthy. In patois-inflected prose, Levy conjures the greed and licentiousness of the island's sugar impresarios and heiresses as they indulge vast meals and sexual gropings—before casting Jamaica aside like a sucked orange. Those who enjoyed Small Island will love The Long Song, not just for the insights on the ‘wretched island,' but as a marvel of luminous storytelling."—Ian Thomson, Financial Times

"Often, the difference between a good read and a great one boils down to a single element: voice. Plot, characters, subject matter and style all factor in, but without a distinctive voice, literature is flat. No worries on that score—or any other—for Andrea Levy's vibrant fifth novel, The Long Song, which follows her rich Whitbread and Orange Prize-winning Small Island. Where Small Island concerned race, class and empire among West Indian immigrants in postwar England, The Long Song is about the bloody death throes of slavery in Jamaica in the 1830s. It's a history that may be unfamiliar to American readers, but Levy's novel, narrated in 1898 by a former slave named Miss July, makes it come alive with urgency and relevance. The Long Song sings the story of July's difficult life, which she writes at the prodding of her son, Thomas, a successful printer and editor with whom she lives in Kingston. As with American slave narratives, July's saga makes clear that slavery is a tragedy for all involved, destroying everyone's humanity . . . With this fresh, pugnacious voice, Levy has us in her thrall . . . Levy, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in working-class North London, addresses racism at its ugliest and most virulent in this intricately imagined novel, creating a world in which little can flourish. The wonder is the spirit of indomitable dignity with which she manages to infuse her tragic tale."—Heller McAlpin, San Francisco Chronicle

"This is a terrific book: beautifully written and imagined, and full of surprises . . . A brilliant historical novel."—A.N. Wilson, Reader's Digest

"There is great skill in the way [Levy] presents characters and dialogue; she has powers of observation and an ear for language that make her books a pleasure to read."—The Times Literary Supplement

"The Long Song is above all the female version of emancipation, told in vivid, vigorous language in which comedy, contempt and a fierce poetry are at work . . . For all that this is supposed to be the autobiography of a woman with ‘little ink,' edited by her anxious, seemly son, The Long Song is told with irresistible cunning; it is captivating, mischievous and optimistic, generating new stories and plot lines throughout the tale. July is one of Levy's stubborn women who inspire both irritation and admiration. She is a splendid creation, whose wit, pride and resilience sweeten a tale that would otherwise make her white readers hang their heads in shame."—Amanda Craig, The Daily Telegraph

"As a story of suffering, indomitability, and perseverance, it is thoroughly captivating."—Alex Clark, The Guardian (UK)

"Levy gives us a new, urgent take on our past."—Vogue

"An elegant allegory of storytelling . . . A subtly observed, beautifully written, structurally complex novel—an impressive follow-up to Small Island."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In the inexplicable absence of a definitive and revelatory history of Jamaica's nearly 300 years of slavery, Levy gamely steps into the void with this lively and engaging novel . . . Charming, alarming, Levy's vibrant historical novel shimmers with all of the artifice and chicanery slave owners felt compelled to exert."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


IT WAS FINISHED ALMOST as soon as it began. Kitty felt such little intrusion

from the overseer Tam Dewar's part that she decided to believe

him merely jostling her from behind like any rough,...

Read the full excerpt



  • On Writing "The Long Song"

    Novelist Andrea Levy discusses how she came to write "The Long Song."



  • Andrea Levy

  • Andrea Levy was born in England to Jamaican parents. Her fourth novel, Small Island, won both the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best. She lives in London.

  • Andrea Levy ©Laurie Fletcher




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