Never far from Nowhere – Andrea Levy

Title: Never far from Nowhere
: Andrea Levy
Published by: Headline Review
Publication date: Aug 8th 1996
Genre: General Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Bury Library

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This was one of my ‘my son is playing up, grab the first book I can’ visits to the local library – I know there is a huge thing of judging a book by it’s cover, but does that carry over to book spines as well? I was honestly attracted to the colour pink of this book and by the time I had checked out of the library I hadn’t even read the blurb on the back to see what it was about. That had to wait until I had gotten home and settled for the evening. In all honesty, I rolled my eyes and sighed about what I had picked up. For some reason, I try to avoid books that have won some sort of award, I think that has something to do with then setting my expectations to high and being disappointed.

Disappointed, I was not. Never far from Nowhere tells is the coming-of-age story of two sisters, Olive and Vivien and how vastly different their lives are based on the simple fact that one sister has a darker shade of skin than the other. I found it utterly fascinating, if not horrible, how the lives of these first English-born generation immigrants; their parents having moved over from Jamaica, are effected by their desires to retain (or reject) their own cultural identity. An identity that their mother herself has rejected, having never seen herself as ‘black’ which gives across a very mixed message to her daughters. The crunch of the story is about prejudice, something that Olive, the elder of the two daughters and having darker skin and frizzier hair, encounters much more readily than her younger sister; who didn’t inherit the African genes quite as much as her sister.

In a time where now we might be getting a little fed up of having political correctness shoved down our throats, this story might feel as if it is going ‘one step to far’ at times in regards to what happens to the main characters and their individual stories, but I can only imagine that this extreme level of prejudice was rampant during the 1970’s when the story was set. Each chapter gives us a change in perspective between the two sisters and we follow them on a gripping narrative of their lives as they grow and make their life choices – as a reader, I felt a vast array of emotions for what each of the girls chose, elation, anger, frustration; a sign of a good author!

As the title suggests though, the book is somewhat depressing. There is no escaping the life that these girls lead, and even though one of the sisters manages to get to University and away from the Council Estate London setting of her younger years, there is still a  forlorn feeling of hopelessness. Now, I am actually a bit of a fan of the dreary, so I found this added to the story for me, but I know it’s not for everyone. So, if you’re looking for a happy ending, then this probably won’t make you feel fulfilled. Also, I found that the ending came a bit too soon; I would have loved to have seen what choices the sisters came up with and if the ideas they came out with part way through (The idea to return ‘home’ to Jamaica) came to fruition. I think as a snapshot into the younger lives of the family and the contrast of their choices, this story is brilliant and captivating (I read the book in two days, which is record-time for me!) but the lack of any real resolution is a bit of a down-side.

Overall, I found the tale wonderful and insightful. It is tastefully and sensitively written, allowing us to see into the lives and never really reached dreams of an immigrant family during a time when immigration was heavily frowned upon – to put it lightly. It’s an interesting read and I am pleased to have been able to judge this book by the shade of (ironically) pink of the books spine.

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