Originally published: 1994 (This edition 2017)
Author: Andrea Levy
Published by: Tinder Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 306 pages
Reading dates: 26-29 May 2019
Winston Jacob is, in many ways, a mystery to his daughter Angela. He arrived in England on the Empire Windrush in 1948 but he never speaks of his old life in Jamaica. Any questions are met with a shrug or a suck of the teeth.
Two days before he is due to retire, Winston develops a limp, and his health rapidly begins to fail. It is up to Angela to help ease the burden on her mother. As she spends more time with her parents, it casts both her father and her childhood years in a new light.
This is my first book by Andrea Levy. We decided we should read one of her books for book club as she sadly passed away this year, and this was the only one that no members had read. Looking at Goodreads reviews, it seems to be the one people like least but I LOVED it. I do wonder if this is because I haven’t read anything else by this author as other book club members were a bit 50/50 about it and if this is the case, I’m glad I read this first and wait in eager anticipation to read her others (I’ve already brought Small Island as this seemed by popular consensus to be a favourite).
Every Light in the House Burnin’ I’m sure is semi-autobiographical. This book jumps backwards and forwards between timeframes which some book club members didn’t like, but I didn’t mind. We first hear about Angela’s life as a young girl, in the mid 1960’s, where she shares a cramped London flat with her 3 older siblings. Winston works for the Post Office (Angela never really know what he does there) and her mum is a teacher. The story is good at depicting the difficulties faced and sometimes overcome by a Jamaican family in 1960s London. We hear about the racial differences Angela encounters, her schooling, her friends and just about every aspect of her life. This was a fantastic social history – I’m ashamed to say I knew very little about Windrush but I have since read up on it. I love a book that makes me curious!
Interspersed with stories of Angela’s childhood we cut to her father becoming ill (in the mid 1980s) and how she is called upon by her parents for support. He has cancer but her mother keeps the true cause of his illness a secret, telling him instead he has had a stroke. It is an interesting snapshot of the NHS and how frustrating care can be both for patients and their families – trying to get the right pain relief, finding people who can care for an ill person in their home and the hospice system, which is a relatively new concept when Winston falls ill.
Filled with wonderfully detailed observations, I adored this thought provoking book! I’m so glad to have read it and urge you to do so to! Let me know if you have read this or any other books by Levy and what you thought.
About the author:
Andrea Levy was an English novelist, born in London to Jamaican parents. Her novels chronicled the experiences of the post-World War II generation of Jamaican immigrants in Britain. She was one of the first black British authors to achieve both critical and commercial success. Her novel Small Island won several major literary prizes: the Orange Prize for women’s fiction, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Whitbread Book of the Year award. She died in February 2019.