26th October 2012
Berkeley

Book Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave… I’d rather kick a hornet’s nest.

 

SPOILER ALERT!!!

So, I just finished Little Bee… Eh. I dunno, it seems like the tag “#1 New York Times Bestseller” may mean “This book is so simple and accessible, there isn’t a chance in hell it will go down as any sort of literary masterpiece”. Personally, when I can read a book cover to cover, and never once have to go to a dictionary, its a let down. Its hard to stay interested when the words aren’t magical and the rhythm isn’t special. By the end of the book, I felt it was very ordinary writing of over-the-top traumatic events. I suppose, without the extraordinary crisis, there would be nothing to keep your interest. Great writing can make the most mundane events seem fantastic. I think Little Bee does the opposite: It turns amazing events bland.

So, Little Bee is a story about a teenage refugee girl from Nigeria and a mother in crisis from England, and how their lives collide through a remarkable encounter. The story is written by Chris Cleave, a very white man from Oxford, who is neither a Nigerian girl or an English woman, which is blatant in his narration of both. each chapter alternates telling the same story from each character’s perspective, neither sounding authentic, or even very different from each other.

Little Bee is the name of the Nigerian girl, who is constantly explaining the differences between her Nigerian roots and life in England in a very matter of fact, yet obviously sympathy inducing way. Its really annoying. It never feels like a young African girl is talking, it always reeks of a privileged white man’s ideal of what she might feel like, with a Noble Savage tinge the entire way through. I got this huge impression of the author trying to be cool, trying to prove he understands the plight of children from impoverished, war-torn countries, constantly showing he has no idea what he’s talking about.

Sarah is the English mother, who I found to be a completely unsympathetic character. ¬†After a while, I quit trying to understand her, because she’s being portrayed as a noble, complex character, but with no depth or truly redeeming qualities to find. Also, I’d guess by the narration of Sarah that the author cheats on his wife. I have no proof, but its very hard to think otherwise…

In the end, a disappointment. Sub-par. The book has every major trauma a person could find in life: Murder, suicide, adultery, imprisonment… but, all the events just come and go. Nothing memorable, its like a police report. In the end, I don’t even know what these characters are supposed to look like- in 267 pages, he couldn’t find time to describe any of them in any detail. I’m pretty sure most of the people who find this entertaining simply have no experience with trauma, and so, just find the spectacle juicy. Big time bummer.

 

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