Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Realistic Approaches and Bare Realities in the Novels of Andrea Levy

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Realistic Approaches and Bare Realities in the Novels of Andrea Levy

Article excerpt

The aim of literature lies not only in the unfolding of human beings' lives and their ambience but also in creating awareness about certain shortcomings and incongruities which require rethinking and reconsideration. Andrea Levy seems to be following the above-mentioned aim of writing literature. Levy has experienced the transitional period when white Britain came to know of its multiracial identity, coinciding with a period of social unrest. In 1958, the Notting Hill riots broke out. Enoch Powell's infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech in 1968 and Brixton riots in 1981 left a deep impact on Levy's psyche. She had been sometimes the only black girl in her school. This offered her the experience, the life-research, which she uses for her characters Olive, Vivien, Angela, and Faith. Levy came to her serious reading in her twenties. She first went to black North American writers such as Toni Morrison and Audre Lourde. She also fed herself with feminist writers like Michael Robert and Zoe Fairbrain of England. James Baldwin changed her outlook on fiction, the politics of fiction. Levy is the author of five novels, each of which is a diary of her thought and experience realistically drawn. She is forthright in an interview, "All my books have been about trying to understand who I am and the position I am in; when I say I'm English, it's not an act of patriotism, it's almost an act of defiance" (Fischer 2005). Her early novels, written in the genre of the female Bildungsroman, show the influence of black women's writings with its emphasis on what Smith (2000, 5) refers to as a "woman-identified art."

Born in London in 1956 to Jamaican parents, Levy grew up on council estates in North London. Her father served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War and returned to Britain on the MV Empire Windrush in June 1948, with her mother following shortly after. They were among the first West Indians to respond to Britain's call for help to rebuild England after the war. Allardice (2005) notes that Levy took up writing in 1988 in an effort to represent black British experience:

It was only a growing political awareness in her 20s that drew her to literature. While working in the wardrobe departments of the BBC and the Royal Opera house, she read voraciously; she was "hungry, hungry, hungry" for books. She looked to Africa-American writers such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, but searched in vain for any British equivalents, or a reflection of herself. She enrolled in a writing class [with Alison Fell] and set about writing her own story.

Levy wanted to write the novels that she, as a young black woman, had always wanted to read:

I was desperate to go into a bookshop, pick up a book, and read about being Black in Britain and not having come from somewhere else, of actually being born here and having to create your own identity. (Hennessy 1996)

Levy's fictions about the children of Windrush and the black British experience draw on many aspects of her own coming-of-age experiences and family background. For instance, after attending a creative writing class, Levy drew on her own experience of council flats as well as the death of her father as inspiration for her first novel Every Light in the House Burnin' (Levy 1994). When asked in an interview about how she began writing, Levy replied, "My Dad dying was the impetus. . . . I think I just wanted to make him visible, record something of his life, and also the experience we'd gone through with it" (Fischer 2014). Set in North London of the 1960s, a coming-of-age story, the novel is narrated by Angela Jacobs, who, like the author, is a British-born girl of Jamaican descent. The figure of Angela's father Winston looms large in the novel and encircles Angela's mental landscape as she witnesses his long-drawn, losing battle with cancer and her recollections of childhood.

The two are juxtaposed in a way that the past and the present give meaning to each other and create a picture that is at once comic and tragic. …

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