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  • "Playing Bad for White Ears":A Study of the Narratee in Andrea Levy's The Long Song
  • Elif Öztabak-Avcı (bio)

Andrea Levy's fiction calls for a way of thinking, concisely put into words in her essay "This is My England" (2000): "Englishness must never be allowed to attach itself to ethnicity." Her early novels, Every Light in the House Burnin' (1994) and Never Far From Nowhere (1996), contest the hegemonic link between nationality and ethnicity by foregrounding the shared culture of daily life as the element that makes one feel connected to a national community. Starting from her third novel, Fruit of the Lemon (1999), onward, the notions of "Englishness" and "home" in Levy's fiction become imbued with a postcolonial and transnational perspective, as clearly seen in one symbolic scene when Faith, the young black British protagonist, visits a house in Jamaica whose "windows were tall and elegantly glazed with squares of glass like fine Georgian houses in England" (324). At the back of this house is a tiny wooden shed, which was home for slaves. Faith enters the shed and "looked out and [saw] the pretty pink slave-owner's house and beyond that the sky and the panoramic view of one of the most beautiful islands on earth" (325). This scene allegorizes Faith's looking at England and Jamaica through the window of their shared colonial past, the kind of vision that shapes Fruit of the Lemon and Levy's subsequent novels. Moving from a "rooted" engagement with the nation and national identity to a more "routed" one, in Paul Gilroy's words (19), [End Page 117] this fiction gives more textual space to scenes set outside Britain. Unlike Levy's first two novels, both set entirely in Britain, Fruit of the Lemon (1999) has sections devoted first to "England" and then to "Jamaica," marking it as a turning point. This novel also begins the trend in Levy's fiction of rendering problematic the neat distinction between "here" and "there," foregrounding the shared history and thereby the shared present of the "here" lived in Britain and the "there" lived in the (former) colonies. Levy's 2004 historical novel Small Island, for instance, looks back to early- and mid-twentieth century Britain, Jamaica, and India from a post-colonial perspective, aiming to make British history and identity more inclusive by underlining post-war immigration from the Caribbean as a substantial means of support for the British national economy.

Levy's most recent novel, The Long Song (2010), is set entirely in nineteenth-century Jamaica and is thus in line with the trajectory of her earlier fiction, characterized by progressively greater temporal and spatial distance from contemporary Britain. Paradoxically, though, a present-day concern motivates this distance: to reconfigure the ways in which the British cultural arena currently imagined slavery. As a historical novel, The Long Song may seem to stand apart from Levy's other novels, but it is in fact tightly articulated with them as a metafictional neo-slave narrative. The scholarship on this work, in contrast to Levy's earlier novels, emphasizes the connection between its "reassessment" of the generic features of the classic slave narrative as well as its direct engagement with "questions about narrative itself" (Perfect 74). The aim of this paper is to follow up on these studies by focusing on the fictive addressee/narratee whom the narrator idealizes in The Long Song, a reconfiguration of another generic feature of the classic slave narrative that accords with the novel's interest in revisiting critically the construction of the enslaved subject.

In "Implied Reader," Wolf Schmid identifies two "manifestations" of "the implied reader": "the presumed addressee" and "the ideal recipient." He states that the former "can function as a presumed addressee to whom the work is directed and whose linguistic codes, ideological norms, and aesthetic ideas must be taken into account if the work is to be understood. In this function, the implied reader is the bearer of the codes and norms presumed in the readership" (emphasis original). The function of the second reader, the "ideal recipient," is built upon the former; this reader not only understands the work, but also agrees...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9248
Print ISSN
1549-0815
Pages
pp. 117-142
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-23
Open Access
No
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