I grabbed this book from an airport bookstore just before running to catch my flight to Chicago. On the same row was the novel “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” which has topped Amazon’s bestsellers for the past several weeks.
At the time, I fully intended to read the dragon tattoo book that everyone was raving about, some more about the movie than the book. However, the bright orange cover set behind the black silhouette of a girl appealed to my more adventurous side. The vague endorsements by various media sources and the statement:
“We don’t want to tell you WHAT HAPPENS in this book. NEVERTHELESS, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:
[insert short, enigmatic synopsis of novel]”
Chris Cleave’s Little Bee: A Novel snared me with the novel’s opening sentence, drawing me in to the emotional authenticity of the characters. The book is narrated in first person by the two main characters.
One is a girl, “Little Bee” who is a Nigerian refugee. Her perspective on life in Britain is amusing, her past though is gruesomely dark. The other character is Sarah, an upper-middle class woman who is editor of a woman’s magazine. Her life becomes significantly more complex when it becomes entangled with Little Bee’s on fateful day on the beach. There are some that question the technical authenticity of the characters, however, for me, both Little Bee and Sarah were heart-wrenchingly convincing. They became real in my imagination.
About half way through the book, I felt a little like Sarah must have felt when she had decided to go on a press vacation to Nigeria. The “special story” promised on the back cover and the whimsical drawing on the front didn’t prepare me for the intensity of this novel. After reading parts of the book, I was exhausted from the flood of emotions caused by very graphic images projected from text to imagery.
I had not signed up for this shocking story when I hastily selected the book from an airport bookstore. However, now that I was caught-up in the intensity of the story, like Sarah, I felt I couldn’t let go — at least, not until I had read the entire book.
However, one key part of this novel that is less than satisfying is the ending. It seemed too neatly tied together for a piece of work that otherwise explores the messiness of life as relationships become entangled. It was as if the authors or editors succumbed to their need for a peaceful Hollywood-like ending.
Besides this flaw, the book is riveting and powerful. Be prepared for a provocative and emotional journey. Ultimately, it is a work of fiction even though many of the themes are very real.