Never Far from Nowhere by Andrea Levy
Published in 1996 by Headline Review
My copy: Secondhand
This is the story of two sisters, Olive and Vivien, born in London to Jamaican parents and brought up on a council estate. They go to the same grammar school, but while Vivien’s life becomes a chaotic mix of friendships, youth clubs, skinhead violence, A-levels, discos and college, Olive, three years older and a skin shade darker, has a very different tale to tell…
I thought I had read all of Levy’s books but then I realised that, despite this having sat on my bookshelf for a good year or two, I had never actually got round to reading it. We have two first person narrators, Olive and Vivien, and from the start we know they are very different characters, and their lives go in very opposing directions accordingly.
I found myself really sucked into the story of the two sisters, and I enjoyed the contrasts between them – and the complex reasons for these differences. The mother is a very important character in the lives of the two girls, and the way she treats each girl differently has had a huge impact on the directions their lives have taken She is a pretty unpleasant character actually, and her behaviour can be shocking at times.
I also thought it set the scene of North London in the late 70s really well, and it painted a believable picture with descriptions of the clothes, music and attitudes of the times.
Although I really enjoyed reading the story of Vivien and Olive, I felt you could tell that this was one of Levy’s earlier novels. The dialogue was clunky at times, and I did find some of the banter between Vivien and her friends didn’t work well, and also the bad language was a bit over-the-top! But the central story was good enough to keep me reading, and I felt it improved as the book went on and we didn’t get so much of the 14-year-old chat!
Overall, despite its flaws, I liked this book a lot and I loved reading the stories of the two sisters. They were both both interesting and complex characters who were a product of their upbringing and this was well developed throughout the novel.