Enthralling but at the same time disturbing: challenging the readers of Small Island

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This article explores the responses of readers who encountered Andrea Levy?s novel Small Island through the 2007 project Small Island Read. Through an analysis of the pleasure and discomfort experienced by these readers, it suggests that Small Island was able to keep them in the thrall of its narrative arc, while simultaneously challenging them to consider the stereotypes distorting their perceptions of others and while conveying uncomfortable information to them, such as the disparity between the representation of the ?mother country? to colonial subjects and lived reality in wartime England. The responses also furnish evidence of the ways literary features can both facilitate and obstruct a text?s transformative potential, and how Levy?s text helped readers to overcome destabilizing effects such as chronological shifts and use of dialect. It argues that the reception of Small Island raises important questions about the divide between academic and other kinds of reading within postcolonial studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-140
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Commonwealth Literature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • small island
  • andrea levy
  • mass reading events
  • reception study
  • reader response
  • postcolonial studies
  • English
  • English literature
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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