by Erin K. | | 5 Comments | Tags:

Welcome to Week 4 of the Online Book Club discussion of Small Island!

We’re on our last week of our discussion, so if you’re just joining us, make sure to take a second and read the first three entries before reading the rest of this one.

How did you like the ending? Were you as surprised about Queenie and her baby as I was? I have to confess that I saw a clip of the show when I was researching on YouTube, so I knew that Queenie was going to have a baby. But I was genuinely shocked when she decided to give her baby to Hortense and Gilbert. I really wished that she and Bernard would be able to raise the baby together and would grow closer together. But it didn’t work out that way. There is an episode of the show Call the Midwife where a white woman delivers a black baby, but her husband pretends not to notice and raises the baby as if it were his own. I hoped that Bernard would do the same, but he didn’t really get that chance. I think he might have since he was willing to comfort the baby near the end of the book, but Queenie didn’t really give him that chance.

I thought the chapters about Bernard were the hardest to read. I just didn’t really enjoy Bernard as a character. I felt like I couldn’t really understand him. He didn’t have a really observable personality. He just seemed to like following the rules. I guess that’s what made it so hard for him to accept that Gilbert and Hortense were living in his house.

Did you feel your heart breaking for Hortense when she went to interview for that teaching job? I felt like I could barely read that section because I was so sad for Hortense. I can’t even imagine how demoralized and belittled she felt when she left that interview. She, like Gilbert, imagined that England would be a magical place, but so many people there treated them like they were inferior. But, that scene ended up being good because it allowed Hortense to be vulnerable and to be receptive to Gilbert. After reading the last chapters with Gilbert and how he worked so hard to be gentle to Hortense and how he defended her in front of the Blighs, I decided that Gilbert was the best character in the book. He was just so good. He was so nice to Hortense, even when she was prickly, and he continued to work hard and look for hope, even when the people in England didn’t seem to care about him.

When I was reading about the book, I discovered that it is required reading for some high schools in England. Does that surprise you? Do you think you would share this book with a high school student? Would you recommend this book to anyone you know?

Did you take the time to watch the miniseries? Did you enjoy it?

Please let me know what you thought of this last section. I am dying to know if you guessed that Queenie was pregnant. And I am really interested to know who your favorite character was!

I hope you’ll join us next month as we read Seabiscuit.

5 Responses to “Small Island: Week 4”

  1. Carrol

    I was shocked by the ending of the book. Little did we know that Michael was “visiting” Queenie. I felt so many of her emotions when she realized she was pregnant. I was do happy she decided to carry the baby to full term. I never expected her to give the baby away to Gilbert and Hortense. Obviously, the baby would be loved and cared for.

    My heart broke for Hortense when she went to interview for the teaching position. I felt so sad that she didn’t realize the color of her skin was working against her. I was so glad her heart softened toward Gilbert.

    I have to say the chapters about Bernard were the hardest for me to read. I felt sorry for him when he was away because of all of the dreadful things he saw and endured. However, I was really mad at him for the way he treated Gilbert and just assumed Queenie’s unfaithfulness was connected to him. I would like to hope that eventually he would have learned to love Queenie’s baby as his own.

    I was shocked to learn this is a book read in high schools in England. As a former teacher, I can honestly say there is no way this would be a required book in my classroom. I would recommend this to other adults, though.

    Thanks again for leading us through this book. The “extras” you provided throughout were interesting and helpful.

    • Erin K.

      I was shocked by the end of the book, too, Carrol! I was so surprised that Queenie was pregnant, and then when she gave the baby away, I was especially shocked.

      The Hortense interview part helped to humanize her. But, I felt so sad for her throughout. It seems like that incident was helpful for her to grow to love Gilbert, but I still feel sad that she had to face that sort of discrimination.

      The Bernard chapters were the hardest chapters for me as well. It’s always hard to read accounts of war!

      Thanks for providing some perspective as a former teacher! It would be a hard book to teach–I think some parents might have a hard time accepting some of the content.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the “extras!” I hope to hear from you next month! Talk to you then!

  2. Jane Engle

    The lengths Queenie took in order to prevent anyone from knowing she was pregnant surprised me. To just expect Hortense to suddenly find out and help her deliver the baby was very domineering. Then to ask and beg Hortense and Gilbert to take and raise the child seemed a convenient way for Queenie to rid herself of any lingering responsibility for what was her and Michael’s self-indulgent behavior. While the ending seemed to be in the best interest of the child, I would have liked to see Queenie and Bernard overcome their problems by learning to share their love with each other and the baby as it grew.

    Racial discrimination was a theme I expected to be included in this book. When it arose in different forms I was not upset nor disturbed. Instead,I felt it was something that the characters had to learn with which to deal. They could either willingly or unwillingly accept it.

    While Bernard was forced to accept non-British and non-white individuals being around him previously, when he arrived back home it was a different matter. He felt both legally and as a man it was his right to refuse anyone from living in his house. While his actions could be seen as discriminating against certain individuals, it may have been only his desire for privacy that made him do what he did. Being a proper British man, he would have considered any signs of emotion to be a sign of weakness. Queenie, believing he would never return, had developed a life for herself where a husband was not needed. Her reaction to his return was not surprising and her decision about giving the baby away would have allowed her independence with no obligations. Hortense with Gilbert’s help was learning to accept the reality of a black woman’s role outside her Jamaican surroundings. Her feelings of superiority had caused her to be disliked and unwelcome before even considering her race. Gilbert was the most able to deal with whatever came his way. I felt, however, he should have been stronger in promoting himself and other black men’s abilities and capabilities. As a result of these feelings, I did not have a favorite character.

    Due to its quality, I am glad to learn this book is being required in some English high schools. Students in high school could be given questions for discussion that would be educational and of interest to them. While I can understand some parents being against the sexual content, England is less restrictive and allows younger people access to such material. With the proper teachers, I see no reason for American high school students to be offered the same opportunity. While I currently do not know any high school students with whom I would share this book, I know others of different ages to whom I would recommend it.

    Due to having upcoming cataract surgeries, I will not be participating in the Book Club discussions for a while. Will return when I am able.

    • Erin K.

      Thanks for chiming in, Jane. I totally agree with your assessment of Queenie’s behavior at the end of the book. I understand that Gilbert and Hortense could probably provide a better life for the child than she could have, I still wished that she and Bernard could have found a way to keep the child.

      Thanks for your perspective on Bernard. I hadn’t considered that he had a hard time having people in his home because he valued his privacy. Thinking that way helps me to understand him better.

      I’m glad that you have some people you could recommend the book to. I agree–with the right teachers leading the discussion, I think this book could be really interesting in a classroom.

      I’m sorry to hear that you won’t be joining us for a while! I hope you recover quickly! We’ll miss you next month!

  3. Jane Engle


    The word “not” was missing from a sentence. It should read
    “With the proper teachers, I see no reason for American high school students not to be offered the same opportunity.”

Comments are closed.