Sunday, May 29, 2011

Little Bee: A review

Chris Cleave. Image found here--bonus points to this source for including a little unadulterated admiration of Cormac McCarthy and an interesting discussion of the notion of remixing novels.

I like this picture. It seems to me suggestive of Cleave's work, at least in this novel: shadows loom over the narrative, slowly taking shape even as they inform the novel's Now; you can begin to guess at those shadows' ultimate form but, until they're finally revealed, remain something more like potentiality--for when they are revealed and we keep reading, we'll soon see that they have not yet finished their shaping power.

Little Bee is Chris Cleave's second novel. I don't think the Mrs. had known anything about Cleave before buying this a couple of months ago. So, I confess that when I read the back cover's reticence about revealing the novel's central event (one of those shadows I alluded to) and its injunction to the reader to not reveal it either, I confess to rolling my eyes a bit. But They are right: to have known in advance would have robbed this novel of its power. So, you'll have to trust me on this: In the most positive sense of the phrase, you don't want to know.

I can tell you some things, though. I can tell you that Cleave's narrative alternates between two very different women, their narratives occasionally overlapping in the novel's Now. Sarah is a magazine editor from the London suburbs; Little Bee, the U.S. edition's titular character (in the U.K., the title is The Other Hand), is from Nigeria. I can tell you that if you like your humor wry and dark, Little Bee will become your new favorite character. I can tell you that, especially in moments of tension and, um, suddenness, Cleave has been paying attention to Blood Meridian, but Cleave is clearly his own novelist--especially in his handling of these distinctive female voices (if McCarthy's work has a weakness, it's in his depictions of women). I can tell you that even after we are told about the mysterious central event, other surprises await. I can tell you that this novel is, in one respect, very Commonwealthish in its orientation, but we in the U.S. need to be listening, too: we have an immigration dilemma, too. I can tell you that its end is both unresolved and, for me, at least, completely satisfying.

The next time you find yourself at the bookstore with an hour or so to kill, read its first two chapters (it reads fast, but it's not a fluff read). You'll probably decide you want to take it with you long before you finish them: You'll want to see those shadows resolve.


R. Sherman said...

The sign of a good review is that reader goes out and immediately tries to order it from Amazon.

Well done.


John B. said...

Randall! Good to see you 'round these parts.

Thanks for the compliment. I think you'll enjoy it. In fact, on its strength, I picked up Cleave's first novel, Incendiary, while I was in Texas and gave it to the Mrs. as a little gift. I look forward to her verdict on it; of late, she's been choosing well.