Island Songs and East of Acre Lane, two must-reads - grab your heart, not with pity but with wonder that such beauty can come from such a life
Island Songs is a novel brought to life by a wealth of vivid detail and a superb cast of supporting characters. Alex Wheatle has a real talent for understated, convincing dialogue
Brixton Rock and East of Acre Lane were spirited, gritty depictions of life for second-generation black Britons in the 1980's. In Island Songs, his most ambitious novel so far, he tells the story of their parents' generation. An expansive family saga, it spans five generations but eventually narrows its focus to two sisters, Hortense and Jenny, who grow up in the 1940s and 1950s on a smallholding in Claremont, Jamaica. They inherit their free-spirited, sometimes fiery temperament - the source of much of the novel's drama, comedy, and fabulously witty patois dialogue - from their father, who traces his lineage back to the Maroons, a mountain-dwelling community of freedom-fighting escaped slaves
I dare you not to be mesmerised by the 'susu' talk of the church congregation, the daily annoyances of box drink vendors and the street slanguage of Brixton. Wheatle's description of the simplicity of Jamaican life 'back in the days' floats you into the fields of callaloo and sweet potato with the sound of off-key church vocals in the back. It brings a new dimension to the struggles of the people of that period and shows just how much hope they had for the 'gold streets of Englan'. This novel will be nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up in similar circumstances and a breath of fresh Jamaican air for anyone else. So, sit back and pick up the time-travel book that delivers a real insight into 20th century Jamaica and her offspring.
Alex Wheatle is the real deal; he writes with heart and authenticity, books that make you laugh and worry and cry and hold your breath. It's a pity there's only one of him