The Long Song
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Levy
The right of Andrea Levy to be identified as the Author of
the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2010
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
eISBN : 978 0 7553 7341 3
This Ebook produced by Jouve Digitalisation des Informations
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
An Hachette UK Company
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Table of Contents
Critical acclaim for Andrea Levy’s novels:
‘Every scene is rich in implication, entrancing and disturbing at the same time; the literary equivalent of a switch-back ride’
The Sunday Times
‘A great read . . . honest, skilful, thoughtful and important’
‘A cracking good read’ Margaret Forster
‘What makes Levy’s writing so appealing is her even-handedness. All her characters can be weak, hopeless, brave, good, bad - whatever their colour. The writing is rigorous and the bittersweet ending, with its unexpected twist, touching . . . People can retain their dignity, however small their island’
Independent on Sunday
‘Wonderful . . . seamless . . . a magnificent achievement’ Linda Grant
‘Never less than finely written, delicately and often comically observed, and impressively rich in detail and little nuggets of stories’
‘An engrossing read - slyly funny, passionately angry and wholly involving’
‘A work of great imaginative power’ Linton Kwesi Johnson
‘As full of warmth and jokes and humanity as you could wish’
‘Gives us a new urgent take on our past’
‘An involving saga about the changing face of Britain’
‘Explores the Caribbean experience of immigration to Britain with great sensitivity’
FRUIT OF THE LEMON
‘Levy has a gift for voices . . . a thoughtful comment on racism and the importance of knowing where you are from’
The Sunday Times
‘Funny and moving . . . [Levy is] an ironic comedian whose subtle, intelligent novel steers well clear of whimsy’
‘Unflinchingly unsentimental, her writing is leavened with humour and warmth . . . entertaining and revelatory’
‘Reinforces Levy’s reputation as an astute observer of modern British life’
‘Bright and inventive’
NEVER FAR FROM NOWHERE
‘Painfully perceptive and passionate, NEVER FAR FROM NOWHERE hits a raw nerve with its powerful concoction of poignancy and humour’
‘Passionate and angry’
‘In this lively, crisp, raw voice, young black Londoners may have found their Roddy Doyle’
Independent on Sunday
‘Levy’s raw sense of realism and depth of feeling infuses every line’
EVERY LIGHT IN THE HOUSE BURNIN’
‘Andrea Levy is a long-awaited birdsong of one born black and gifted in Britain. Let her sing and sing and sing’ Marsha Hunt
‘An extremely powerful novel’
‘Levy’s skill and cunning leave the reader shaken’
‘An interesting and touching book’
‘Humorous and moving, unflinching and without sentiment’
Independent on Sunday
For Amy, Ivy and Beryl
HE BOOK YOU ARE now holding within your hand was born of a craving. My mama had a story—a story that lay so fat within her breast that she felt impelled, by some force which was mightier than her own will, to relay this tale to me, her son. Her intention was that, once knowing the tale, I would then, at some other date, convey its narrative to my own daughters. And so it would go on. The fable would never be lost and, in its several recitals, might gain a majesty to rival the legends told whilst pointing at the portraits or busts in any fancy great house upon this island of Jamaica.
It was a fine ambition from a noble old woman for whom many of her years were lived in harsh circumstance. This wish demanded respect.
Unfortunately for my mama, she then proceeded to convey her chronicle to me at some of my busiest hours. Indeed that sweet woman never seemed to grow too tired to seek me out: early morning, at the heat of midday, or late, late into the night; following me about the house while I was in the process of dressing or washing; whilst I waited for a meal to be brought; as I chewed; as I pushed the plate away; as I was deep in talk with my wife; even at my place of work as several of my men waited, curious for my instruction. It shamed me to find that I did not have time enough to give it heed—that on most occasions I feigned listening to her yarn when, in truth, not one word of it was entering my ear or my mind’s eye. Oh, how often did I nod to her when a vigorous shake of the head was what was required? I will not here go into the trouble that this caused within my household, but be sure to know there was plenty of it. No, let us pass with pleasure on to the solution that was eventually found.
A chapbook—a small pamphlet. My mama’s words printed upon paper, with the type set down in the blackest ink for ease of reading. Upon its cover there could be the ornamentation of a sturdy woodcut—a horse or cart or bundled sugar cane (for I know a man who can render these with such skill as to trick your eye into believing you were gazing upon the true item).
I explained to my dear mama, once spoken these precious words of hers would be lost to all but my ears. If, though, committed to a very thin volume, I could peruse her tale at my leisure and no word would be lost when my fickle mind strayed to some other purpose. And better, for the excess books which would be produced from the press could be given for sale, taken around the island so others, far and wide, might delight in her careful narration.
But my mama began her life as a person for whom writing the letters ABC could have seen her put to the lash, for she was born a slave. The undertaking of committing her tale to words that might be read and set into printed form was, at first, quite alarming for her poor soul. She fretted, following me about the house and town to chatter at me of her anxiety of writing upon paper. She feared she would not have the skill to make herself understood in this form; and what if she were to make some mistake in its telling? Then surely it would be there, for ever and a day, for all to find amusement in her errors!
However, my trade is as a printer. Indeed, although it is not usually within my character to brag about my achievements, I need to explain that I am considered by many—be they black, white or coloured—to be one of the finest printers upon this island. My particular skill is an ability to find meaning in the most scribbled of texts. Give me writing that looks to have been made by some insect crawling dirty legs across the paper and I will print its sense, clear and precise. Show me blots and smudges of ink and I will see form. Let blades of grass blow together in the breeze and I will find words written in their flowing strands.
So I was able to assure my precious mama that I would be her most conscientious editor. I would raise life out of her most crabbed script to make her tale flow like some of the finest writing in the English language. And there was no shame to be felt from this assistance, for at some of the best publishing houses in Britain—let me cite Thomas Nelson and Son or Hodder and Stoughton, as my example—the gentle aiding and abetting of authors in this manner is quite commonplace.
She thankfully agreed. Then forsook the pleasures of cooking her cornmeal porridge, fish tea, and roasted breadfruit, of repairing and sowing our garments and other tasks which, in truth, were quite useful about our busy household, to put all her effort into this noble venture, this lasting legacy of a printed book.
The tale herein is all my mama’s endeavour. Although shy of the task at first, after several months she soon became quite puffed up, emboldened to the point where my advice often fell on to ears that remained deaf to it. Some scenes I earnestly charged her not to write in the manner she had chosen. But, like the brightest pupil with an outworn master, she became quite insistent upon having her way. And agreeing with a resolute woman is always easier.
Now, only one further word of explanation is required from me; although this story was intended to be accommodated within the limited size and pages of a pamphlet or chapbook it, however, grew. Notwithstanding, let me now conclude this mediation so my mama’s tale might finally commence.