Thursday, November 18, 2010

What I'm Reading Now-Little Bee

Little Bee: A Novel
Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave-If you're aware of this book, then you're probably aware of the mystique surrounding it.  Maybe mystique is too strong, a word, but the author or publisher or somebody essentially decided to part with the standard practice of telling readers what the book is about; instead, they decided to say:

We don't want to tell you WHAT HAPPENS in this book.
It is a truly SPECIAL STORY and we dont' want to spoil it.
Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it.  When you do, please don't tell them what happens.  The magic is in how the story unfolds.

Was Don Draper involved in this?  Because, I have to say, I kind of think this is marketing genius, not to  mention just a little bit ballsy.  I mean, you have to be pretty sure you have a good product if you're going to go with the word-of-mouth marketing ploy, especially with a book.  It seems to have paid off-I've heard nothing but good things, and I did manage to go this long without knowing what the book is actually about, so who am I to part with tradition at this point?

I won't tell you what the book is about, but I will share with you a few parts that I liked.  Early on, Little Bee gives a great example of how different the same language can be between two speakers.

I am only alive at all because I learned the Queen's English.  Maybe you are thinking, that isn't so hard.  After all, English is the official language of my country, Nigeria.  Yes, but the trouble is that back home we speak it so much better than you.  To talk the Queen's English, I had to forget all the best tricks of my mother tongue.  For example, the Queen could never say, There was plenty wahala, that girl done use her bottom power to engage my number one son and anyone could see she would end in the bad bush.  Instead the Queen must say, My late daughter-in-law used her feminine charms to become engaged to my heir, and one might have foreseen that it wouldn't end well.  It is all a little sad, don't you think?  Learning the Queen's English is like scrubbing off the bright red varnish from your toenails, the morning after a dance.
I love her view of her language, and this example made me laugh because it reminded me a lot of the pidgin that is spoken here.  I liked Little Bee's view on a lot of things.

On the girl's brown legs there were many small white scars.  I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress?  I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly.  That is what the scar makers want us to think.  But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them.  We must see all scars as beauty.  Okay?  This will be our secret.  Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived.

Obviously, Little Bee is referring to scars resulting from violence, but this made me think of the scars left behind by things like cancer, scars that people might try to hide because they think they are ugly or embarrassing and my hope is that everyone with such a scar can adopt Little Bee's philosophy on beauty and strength.

One of Little Bee's habits is to figure out how she would kill herself in any given location.  This sounds morose, but she has her reasons, and I had to laugh at some of her solutions.

One day [they] gave all of us a copy of a book called LIFE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.  It explains the history of your country and how to fit in.  I planned how I would kill myself in the time of Churchill (stand under bombs), Victoria (throw myself under a horse), and Henry the Eighth (marry Henry the Eighth).  

I had to read the following passage a couple of times before I finally read it correctly.

Everything was happiness and singing when I was a little girl.  There was plenty of time for it.  We did not have hurry.   

I kept thinking that there had been a typo and it was supposed to be, We did not have to hurry or perhaps, We did not hurry.  The addition or subtraction of just one tiny word makes such a huge difference, and I think it's this kind of nuance throughout the book that makes it so successful.

So, overall, I'm on board with everyone else who read and loved this book...but with one caveat.  Little Bee's story is entwined with a woman named Sarah, and for me their story worked well.  The problem for me came anytime the men in Sarah's life entered the picture.  I don't know if Sarah's one of those people who is just attracted to complete losers or if these men were simply caught up in situations for which they found themselves unprepared, and as a result didn't act as well as they could have, but I found their handling of certain situations to be not only distasteful but just downright unbelievable at times.  I suppose that both men could be said to be representative of certain failings in society, and maybe that was the author's intent, but they both just made me want to throw the book at a wall a few times.  Gah

I don't know if Heather J.'s was the first review I saw for this book, but, according to my notes, it does seem to be the one that finally made me get off the fence and decide that I wanted to read this book.  So, thanks Heather!

Other reviews (Warning:  The more you read, the more you are going to know about this story!):

Trish at Hey Lady!  Whatcha Readin'? gives a few more details about the story here.
Florinda at The Three R's Blog was not impressed by the withholding of information about this book.  How do you feel?
Raych at books i done read had some mixed feelings but mostly loved it.
According to Books on the Nightstand listeners and readers, Little Bee was one of the top books of 2009.
In a guest post at My Friend Amy, Mary Sharratt thinks that Little Bee would have been considered women's fiction and thus not taken as seriously had it been written by a woman.  Interesting.  Is she right?
Sheila at Book Journey read this for her book club.  Although the club as a whole didn't love the book, Sheila says, "While it was not the book I thought I was going to be reading, it was the book I was meant to read." You gotta love it when that happens!
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza says, "There is nothing like a book such as this to point out to me my incredible naivety."  Indeed.  

I'm sure there are plenty of other reviews out there.  If you've reviewed this book, let me know and I'll add a link to your review.


Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I enjoyed reading your post and laughed at the memory of all the ways she would kill herself (especially the "marry the Henry the VIII one)

Wendy said...

I may check this out. I did read the reviews on Amazon and was intrigued..Next, I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I hope it's worth the hype!

Dreamybee said...

Sheila-I know, the Henry the VIII part cracked me up!

Wendy-I tried reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and just couldn't get into it, but I did think the movie was good. It gave enough introductory information but didn't get bogged down under all the stuff I was trying to slog through at the beginning of the book. Pretty graphically violent though, so just an FYI in case you decide to watch the movie.

Jeanne said...

I don't tend to like books that have a "secret." My daughter read this one this summer, right before she turned 17, and told me the secret because she said it wasn't really that crucial after all. She didn't even finish the book, she was so unimpressed.

If a book can't stand up to rereading, it's usually not a very good book.

Dreamybee said...

Jeanne-I agree that a book should be able to stand on its own merits and not have to rely soley on the hype that surrounds it. I didn't mean to imply that Little Bee's success lay solely in its hype. After all, what good is it if everyone buys the hype but hates the book?

A great story should be a great story whether you know what's coming or not; but I still think there's something to be said for discovering a story and how it unfolds for the first time. Knowing what happens ahead of time doesn't necessarily ruin a story for me, but it does make it a different experience.

I can see how the "secret" in this book might have been over-hyped and ultimately disappointing for your daughter. I think I sort of lowered my expectations in defense of that exact thing and made a point of thinking about whether I was enjoying the telling of the story and not focusing too much on what wild and crazy things might be revealed as I went. I hope your daughter enjoys her next read more!