Little Bee is a story both sad and hopeful, horrific and funny. It's told in the voices of two women: Little Bee, a 16-year old from Nigeria who, after two years, finds herself "unofficially" discharged from an immigration detention center in southern England; and Sarah O'Rourke, magazine editor, mother, reporter's wife. Among Little Bee's few belongings are Andrew O'Rourke's driver's license and business card. Not knowing anyone in the UK, she decides to head for the address on the driver's license. And thus begins a journey for both women.
If you've seen Little Bee in print, you know that the dust jacket warns that there are many surprises to come, that the publisher won't spoil them by telling you much, and that you shouldn't tell anyone else either. I didn't see what all the secrecy was about, beyond a marketing ploy. The book is no more "surprising" than many others. Still, Cleave has a wonderfully lyrical style, especially in the character of Little Bee.
As to the reader, the unvarying cheerfulness apparently intended to represent Little Bee's accent did get a bit monotonous and annoying at times. While that lilting African accent is charming, I doubt that Africans use exactly the same tone and pacing for every emotion they verbally express. Still, overall, this was an engaging book with some important messages.
The White Tiger is in the form of a first-person narrative written in a letter to the Chinese premier. The narrator (known as The White Tiger) relates how he rose from being a poor, lower caste Indian to the driver for a wealthy family, from a wanted murderer to a Bangalore entrepreneur. Full of insights into life in modern-day India, his story is sad, funny, witty, shocking--you name it. All told in a fascinating voice. John Lee was an extraordinary reader.
Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but I really loved this book. After the death of her husband, 88-year old Lady Slane shocks her children by announcing that she plans to leave the family estate and rent a house in Hampstead Heath--a house that holds many fond memories of her younger days. Even more shocking, she dictates that none of her children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren may visit without an express appointment (and those are given infrequently). As a woman who has spent her entire life pleasing others and doing what they expected of her, she finally decides to live as pleases herself. She recalls her early dreams of becoming a painter, and how those dreams were squelched by a proposal that everyone else thought was a brilliant triumph--even though the 18-year old Deborah was not convinced that she was really in love or that she was ready to give up her own independence and aspirations. Looking back on her life, she recalls moments of happiness, moments when she did indeed love (or at least appreciate) her husband and felt fleeting moments of affection for the children who, for the most part, turned out to be disappointments. But as she moves towards death, Lady Slane decides that, while there is still a little time left, she need please no one but herself.
Lately, I've been thinking more and more about the time wasted in the past and the time that I have remaining to make something of my life, and, in that regard, this novel really touched home. The novel is brilliantly read by Wendy Hiller, who played Lady Slane in the TV adaptation. It's a quiet, contemplative book, but one well worth one's time. Vita Sackville-West gives us a portrait of aging that goes far beyond the mourning the loss of youth and beauty to ask significant questions about selfhood and the meaning of life itself.
If it weren't for Audible I'd never get any reading done.
This is a sprawling, weird novel consisting almost entirely of dialogue. I usually follow audiobooks by leapfrogging with a paper copy which I read when I have time. This novel is actually easier to follow on audio, since Nick Sullivan does a very good job giving each character an idiosyncratic accent. On the page it can easily become just a sea of words.
As a novel it's certainly not for everyone, a withering critique of American capitalism told mostly through a little boy's farcical creation of a virtual financial empire made of leveraged purchases of bad businesses, with a frustrated writer and an aristocratic beauty the only ones who can see through it. It's also a bit of an historical artifact, giving us little bits of life in 1970's New York and Long Island. But it's a classic of 20th century American literature, sort of a cross between Ulysses and Doonesbury.