Monday, September 13, 2010

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

"When I was a teenager in the 1980s, we thought of asylum seekers as heroes. The hundreds who died while trying to cross the Berlin Wall, for example. Or the pilots, performers and scientists who defected from the Soviet Union. Or the heroes of previous generations – Sigmund Freud, who fled to London to escape the Nazis, or Anne Frank, who could not flee far enough. Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Joseph Conrad – all of them refugees – I could go on and on. When horror and darkness descend, asylum seekers are the ones who get away. They are typically above average in terms of intellectual gifts, far-sightedness, motivation and resilience. These are the people you want to have on your side. It will be a monument to our hubris if we allow ourselves to start thinking of them as a burden."

This is just one of the inspiring paragraphs I found on Chris Cleave's website. I could spend all day there - what an interesting and engaging guy.

I really loved this book. One of the greatest things about it is the blurb in the front of the dust jacket. I have returned it to the library, and so can't quote it verbatim, but it basically says that the book is great, that the story hinges on the choices made by two women, and that to say more would ruin the story. All true! I might well have passed it by had I known more about the story. In fact, this is the last book I will read for a while that includes the abuse of teenaged girls by men. My heart can't take it - I have girls verging on their teens, and it is too painful to think of them in similar situations.

Don't you hate it when reviewers say "this is an important book"? I feel disinclined to read any book thus heralded. But I think that this novel may in fact be important: the subject is one which we should, in the western world, understand. But it is pure story; there is no lecture, no sense of being enlightened Concerning an Important Fact of Life. It is well-written and entertaining, the two narrators are charming. One even has a terrible boyfriend who, despite her intelligence and success, she continues to adore. Just the kind of flaw that makes a character seem real.

Then the ending. Well. Really? I just couldn't see it, though I can understand why the author wanted it to end that way. Chris Cleave got a lot of things right in this book, primarily Little Bee's voice. I get the feeling there will be a lot more books, and I look forward to seeing him get better and better.

I kind of want to read Incendiary, Chris Cleave's first novel. But if violence against girls is hard to take, how much more painful to read about a mother losing her child? I will wait for a time when I feel a little more thick-skinned. Until then I will peruse his website in a manner verging on stalkerish.


  1. Hi Julia,
    Would Little Bee be good for a teenager to read? (since they don't have any almost-teenage daughters yet)

  2. It's a great book that really captures the life of this teenage girl. There are some pretty disturbing parts, though. I think that any teenager reading it should be talking about it with an adult, and the parents of potential teenage readers should preview it first. Thanks for your question!