Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book Review: Little Bee

And now I begin the process of reviewing the scads of books I've read during the last few months, but completely neglected to write about.

Today: Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

My mom told me about this book she found on the display table at Borders, and how she was intrigued by the non-description on the back (more about that later). Then my dear friend picked the same book for our virtual book club. Despite the fact that I haven't participated in over a year (bad me!), I made a point of asking my mom to borrow it when she was finished.

Unfortunately, I didn't get my hands on Little Bee until after the online discussion, but I did read it eventually. And my mom was right, the quasi-description on the back of the book is intriguing. It says that the book is a special story, but that they can't really tell us much else. Except that it's about two women, one of whom had to make a horrible choice. And then they meet again, and something extraordinary happens. (Okay, I'm retelling this from memory, but I'm quite certain that it doesn't get much more specific than that.)

The book left me pretty disappointed. I was expecting something life changing, based on the cryptic quality of the dust jacket, and Little Bee didn't live up to that. Perhaps if the description had actually described some of the events of the book, I would have read it with more appropriate expectations. Because some of the events of the book are intensely disturbing. And to give credit to Chris Cleave, the writing is quite vivid. The whole book has a very surreal quality to it, so even the mundane events seemed eerie to me.

Since the publisher doesn't give much away about the plot, I feel that I shouldn't either. So how will you know if you want to read it? Here's my conclusion. The book, despite my qualms with its content, is expertly crafted. There's no doubt about that. The story is original, unlike anything I've ever read, and extremely though-provoking. Overall, am I glad I read it? Yes. But, I did not close the book at the end with the warm, contented feeling I get when finishing one of my new favorites. Rather, I felt jolted, unsettled, and confused. I had serious problems with the decisions made by most of the main characters, but that gave me a lot to think about when I finished it. I don't plan on reading it again. But if you can tolerate some horrific scenes, and enjoy thought-provoking prose, give Little Bee a try. And if you want a second opinion, it received stellar reviews from critics far more talented than I.

A note about the title: I find the title ironic. It brings to mind images of something sweet and innocent, when the book is neither. In the UK, the book was published under the title The Other Hand, which I find to be more apt (a hand plays a pivotal role in the book). The cover also better conveys the eerie quality of the novel as well (plus the terrible decision takes place on a beach).

Has anyone else read it? Anything to share?

1 comment:

Katie said...

I felt the exact same way about it! I was really, really enjoying it, but then the end left me cold. Obviously, it wasn't the ending I wanted. And I like to think that I can handle unhappy endings, but all the doubt at the end made me wonder if there was anything even hopeful about it. Theoretically Sarah (I think that was her name) returns to London and publishes the book to draw more attention to the horrible situation, but you don't know that. She almost died on that beach once, I'm not so sure she won't die this time.