Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Little Bee

I found this book disappointing. I think my reaction, however, is largely due to the publisher’s mismanagement of my expectations.

As you can see, the book has a cute, girly cover. The synopsis on the back gives away nothing of the novel’s content. Instead it says something cutesy about how when you read this book, you’re going to want to tell your friends about it – but don’t tell them what happens, because “the magic is in how the story unfolds.”

Well it's not cute, and there's no magic. Tragedy, horror, MAYBE a dim ray of hope. No magic.

Little Bee is about how the West treats immigrants – especially the ones who need asylum – and the particular brand of evil that exists in parts of Africa. It’s about the vast chasm between developed and developing countries, the dark politics of oil development, globalization, the plight of refugees. It’s about marriage and parenting, civility and ethics, depression and grief.

These are important topics, and the author treats them with respect – the writing is fluid, the characters are compelling, the story is narrated in two impressively distinct women’s voices, and the plot is dispensed at a pace that allows suspense (and dread) to build slowly but surely. Like I said, this is an important book, and quite moving. As one reviewer put it, Little Bee “makes you think about the world and your place in it, and about what we owe to one another as human beings on this increasingly small, spinning globe.” My only real gripe with this novel is that there are certain plot points that really don’t make sense, choices the characters make that are inexplicably thoughtless. I can live with that.

But gimmicky jacket is a terrible marketing misjudgment. I just wasn’t prepared for the awfulness of what happened to the characters, nor for the unhappy ending. And because my expectations were set so far from the reality of the book – I guess that left me disgruntled.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

This book was quite hard to get into. The characters were at first very unapproachable. The book is narrated by the concierge of a fancy apartment in France, and by a twelve year old girl who lives with her family there. Both are pretty depressed, and hiding their true personalities. At the beginning of the book they both are just too intelligent and there is too much intellectual musing for me to be that interested or attracted to them. They both are extremely intelligent but choose to hide this and are very introverted and the twelve year old is even planning to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. I just didn't really understand or relate to them at all.
But once I got into the book, and the meeting of the two characters that the whole first half of the book was leading up to, the characters were changing and by the end I loved and cried for them.
So I still recommend it. Even though it was so hard to get into, the last half redeemed itself.