- For the miniseries based on this novel, see Small Island (TV film).
The novel is based on four main characters: Hortense, Queenie, Gilbert and Bernard and the story is told from each of their points of view. Its main plot is set in 1948 and focuses on the diaspora of Jamaican immigrants, who, escaping economic hardship on their own "small island," move to England, the Mother Country, for which the men have fought during World War II. Their reception is not quite the warm embrace that they have hoped for. Some chapters skip to an earlier time as the characters describe the time when they were growing up.
- Queenie Bligh: The level-headed character in the book. She is fair, open-minded and has a very big and kind heart. After her husband, Bernard, left for the war she opened her house for servicemen, which is when she met Gilbert. She is symbolic of England: Queenie comes with reference to the royal family (she was also christened Victoria - after Queen Victoria) and Bligh comes from Blighty, a slightly dated word for England.
- Hortense: A very well-mannered woman who looks down her nose at other people. She comes from Jamaica and has moved to England with hopes of becoming a teacher, but she has a certain naiveté about what to expect when she arrives. Having been brought up in British colonial Jamaica, she has been taught very many exaggerated facts about the niceties of English living. It becomes quite ironic as she turns out to be more polite and well spoken than anyone she meets, despite being a little snobbish.
- Gilbert Joseph: A lovable and funny character who is always trying his hardest to please everyone. Very clumsy but honest, he is one of the more likable characters. He is quite laid back, but extremely intimidated by Hortense, his wife.
- Bernard Bligh: A very well-to-do character who sticks up his nose at everything and everyone, with the exception of his wife Queenie, for whom he shows a great deal of care. He is portrayed as racist and the complete opposite of Queenie both in attitudes and personality.
The novel has won a number of prizes including:
- Orange Prize for Fiction in 2004.
- Whitbread Book of the Year in 2004.
- Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book) in 2005.
- Smallest Island Award in 2003
- Andrea Levy discusses Small Island on the BBC's World Book Club
- Small Island character profile on the BBC One Website
- 'Your books of the decade: What we were reading' (2009-12-05), , London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
- Orange Prize for Fiction Archive , Orange Prize for Fiction website. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
- Brace, Marianne (2004-06-12). "Andrea Levy: Notes from a small island". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Ezard, John (2005-01-06). "Whitbread novel prize is double for Levy". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
- 'Writers: Andrea Levy', , British Council Arts website. Retrieved 2012-02-06.