Thursday, October 25, 2012

Interesting Story, Not the Best Book

Little Bee is the story of a young Nigerian girl who travels to England to escape her imminent death in her own country. Once in England, she has been imprisoned for two years in a detention facility. After being released (illegally), she tracks down the two people whom she encountered on a beach in Nigeria two years earlier, one of whom she owes her life to.

The book is very much about the characters and how they develop and evolve over the course of the two years since the “incident” on the beach, and then once Little Bee arrives. Sarah and Andrew, a couple trying to reconnect after Sarah’s affair, vacation in Nigeria. At this point in time, several villages in Nigeria are decimated for their oil, including Little Bee’s. Little Bee and her sister escape into the woods and run for days trying to escape the guards. One day they reach a beach and see a white couple walking on it. Within minutes the guards are there and the girls beg the couple to take them away. I don’t want to give the whole story away, so I won’t tell you about what happens after that on the beach, but it is important.

Little Bee seeks out Sarah and Andrew, since they are the only people she knows in England. Andrew does not take the resurfacing of Little Bee well, and commits suicide within pages of the novel’s opening. Sarah allows Little Bee to stay with her, determined to have her stay as a legal citizen. Little Bee is absorbed into Sarah’s life, with her four-year-old son Charlie, who dresses and is referred to only as “Batman,” as well as Sarah’s lover Lawrence, who is completely against Little Bee’s presence. After that the book revolves around keeping Little Bee safe, with several failures that do just the opposite.

The back cover of this book made hefty promises to me that it just didn't keep. It said there was “magic” in how the story was told, and promised that it was “extremely funny.” Instead, the only humor I saw was quite dark, and hardly present enough to deem the book as funny. Overall, the entire book was just sad. I saw nothing magical over the course of the novel and was actually quite disappointed in the way it was carried out. Several sections of the book seemed improbable, and this took me out of the story. The characters’ thoughts and opinions changed frequently as the story developed and their actions did not always feel real.

The writer, a white British male, wrote this book from two female perspectives, and I don’t think he did an amazing job of it. I did not care for the character of Sarah, and I think part of that is that she just did not feel realistic to me. She did little in the way of care for her son; in all of the scenes where he becomes emotional, Little Bee takes over. I couldn't quite get inside Sarah’s head, despite her being one of the narrators. It was difficult for me to reconcile these issues with the high moral character who supposedly saved Little Bee’s life. Little Bee’s character was better developed, but still confusing. She was a very moral person, but in certain situations, valued herself over others. She also had a much more advanced internal dialogue than what I expected. In some cases this was impressive, in others, just irritating.

The novel is fairly well-written, and covers a difficult topic well, but I was not impressed enough to seek out other novels by this writer. I enjoyed the story and it did surprise me on occasion, but I would consider this novel to be rather average.

~Cailey W.

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