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.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
“Well, this is a story about books."
“About accursed books, about a man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It's a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind."
“You talk like the jacket blurb of a Victorian novel, Daniel."
“That's probably because I work in a bookshop and I've seen too many. But this is a true story.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
My friend who recommended this book to me said that this was not a book for everyone. That rascal, now she tells me after I purchased and started reading it. But that is kind of the thing, isn’t it? As that author says, “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” Oh, that’s all wrong here. That’s not why this book is not for everyone.
I liked this book a lot but I do not think that it is perfect. The story reminded me of Kate Morton’s Forgotten Garden. Both books are multifaceted. Both are books about books. Both books contain stories about multiple characters whose lives and stories intersect. Both books are mysteries and gothic in style. The setting for this one is Barcelona, Spain and takes place mostly around the first half of the 20th century. The language, tone and manner of expression is very Spanish. Originally written in Spanish, some have commented that much of the prose might have suffered in translation. While I cannot confirm that and while some of the phrasing did seem a bit clumsy in places, by and large, the prose worked just fine for me. I do think, however, that parts could have benefited from improved editing.
The book is about cruelty and great kindness, romance and heroism. The story’s many aspects of love stood out for me. These were familiar, platonic and intimate in nature. Much of the love is of the unrequited kind and this was the case for many of the characters. Much of the frustration, however, is resolved in the end, one way or another. Probably more ladies than gents are drawn to romantic novels. However, most of the loves in this story are described from the male perspective. Perhaps there is something here that can be gleaned and appreciated by both genders.
The narration in my Audible selection is outstanding but again the production leaves something to be desired. The author wrote the solo piano pieces that pepper the story. I like pepper but too much of the spice can spoil a meal. This was the case in a few places of the story. The music would crescendo and almost drown out the narration. Otherwise, the music was probably a nice touch especially for a book of this kind.
Can I recommend this book to everyone? Probably not but, like my friend, I cannot say exactly why. It kept my attention most of the way through and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was well written but I think it was the wonderful narration that made it really good for me.