A professional dancer from the age of eleven, Noel Coward (1899 – 1973) spent the rest of his life in “show business” as a playwright (of thirty-nine plays), composer (of over three hundred songs and sixteen musicals and operettas), film maker (of fifteen adaptations of his plays), and actor-director-producer connected with two dozen additional productions. Now, however, it is 1971, as this novel about his life opens, and he is seventy-two and dealing with an endless series of heart and lung problems, no doubt exacerbated, if not caused, by his persistent smoking. As the narrative evolves, impressionistically, Coward’s mind is seen wandering, and he frequently dozes off. He dreams of the Jazz Age and Gertrude Lawrence, and he sometimes relaxes by reading one of several children’s books by E. Nesbit which he loved as a child and still enjoys reading. He drinks too much, eats too little, refuses to see many people, and becomes annoyed if his life partner Graham Payn is not at his immediate beck and call. Often Payn is with Cole Lesley, “Coley” (formerly known as Leonard Cole), who began his association with Coward as a British valet, then became his secretary, manager, and occasional cook. At a time in which rap music is popular and raves are ubiquitous, the witty and clever lyrics for which Noel Coward was so famous, and which depend so much on word play and the rhythm of educated (British) speech, may be completely unfamiliar to readers of this book. Indeed, Noel Coward himself, once a household name, may also be an unfamiliar name to many readers of this book. Fame is fleeting, and never more obviously so than with an author/writer/composer/screenwriter like Noel Coward, who was also brilliant, articulate, and gifted beyond measure.
Category Archive for 'Jamaica'
Written by July, a Jamaican slave, The Long Song is a family history, one irrevocably tied to Amity Plantation, where July, the mulatto daughter of Kitty, a slave, and a Scottish overseer, has lived with her mother, accompanying her as she works the plantation in the 1820s. July, while still a child, eventually catches the eye of Caroline Mortimer, the widowed sister of John Howarth, owner of Amity, and she decides to train July as her maid. Wresting her without warning from Kitty, who has no legal rights to her child, Caroline renames the child “Marguerite” and sets about training her. As July grows and learns to manipulate the self-centered Caroline, Caroline herself becomes less “English,” less “civilized,” and even more autocratic, until she resembles the plantation owners themselves, regarding their workers as property, not as humans.
Winner of the UK’s Whitbread Prize for Best Novel, the Orange Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Andrea Levy’s Small Island has just been released in the US, where it may win as many readers as it has “across the pond.” Set in London in 1948, it focuses on the diaspora of Jamaican immigrants, who, escaping economic hardship on their own “small island,” move to England, the Mother Country, for which the men have fought during World War II. Their reception is not the warm embrace that they have hoped for, nor are the opportunities for success as plentiful as they have dreamed. Alternating among four points of view, Levy involves the reader in their interconnected stories, which she tells with an honesty and vibrancy that make the tragicomedy of their lives both realistic and emotionally involving. (One of my Favorites for 2005)
May Flynn, the daughter of actor Errol Flynn and a beautiful Jamaican girl, has always wondered about her roots. Brought up by her mother and grandfather, and, for four years, a foster family, May is clever and tough from a young age. Always an outsider, she could pass for white, though she is not part of the white world of her father and maternal grandfather. Not part of the black world, either, though she considers herself “colored,” she is often mocked by her dark Jamaican peers. Frequently alone, she enjoys keeping journals, filling them with stories of pirates, inspired by the films she sees at the local cinema and starring Errol Flynn. As May discovers more about her mother and her mother’s life before, during, and after her birth, she creates the story of her own life, which ultimately becomes this novel. Filled with colorful characters, the patina of Hollywood, and the violence of political change, the novel is a fast-paced melodrama and family saga. The author’s style is clean and simple as she traces lives across generations, providing enough description to enable the reader to create vibrant pictures of the action without bogging down the narrative.