Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

From the back of the book: We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn't. And it's what happens afterwards that is most important. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how it unfolds. - Random House, from the back of the book.

My synopsis of Little Bee: When Little Bee shows up at Sarah's door step the morning of her husband's funeral, Sarah was surprised to say the least. The last time they saw each, Little Bee was being lead away by some pretty frightening men on a beach in Africa. Sarah assumed she was dead. Even though Little Bee just met Sarah and her husband once, she seeks refuge with them now because she has nowhere else to go. It is both fortunate and unfortunate that Little Bee has found Sarah at such a terrible time. Sarah is so vulnerable and confused that she has little choice but to invite Little Bee to stay. Together they drift and together they find their way through the sometimes chaotic world.

I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't what I expected. The back of this uncorrected proof says that the book is "extremely funny". While there are some lighter moments that are amusing, I wouldn't call it hilarious. Then again, Cleave is British and I don't always get their humour or satire.

The story is told from alternating points of view/chapters, that of Sarah and Little Bee, with one exception. One of the characters was relating part of the story when all of a sudden the point of view switched to the other character. I had to read that part no less than three times to figure out what happened. I'm still not sure I got it. Besides alternating between characters, the story unfolds in a non-linear fashion. There were a few times I thought we were close to the end of the story, but I wasn't close to the end of the book. I loved getting the story in bits and pieces. In this case, this style worked really well. Despite being told from the different points of view and jumping around in time, the story was pretty easy to follow.

I liked both Little Bee and Sarah, but my favourite character was Sarah's son, who refused to take off his Batman costume. Being a child and doing childlike things amidst horrific circumstances seemed like the way to go to me. At many times in my life, I wanted to escape and pretend to be someone else rather than be a grown up and face reality.

These favourite quotes are from the uncorrected proof, so they may differ from the final published copy.
Death, of course, is a refuge. It's where you go when a new name, or a mask and cape, can no longer hide you from yourself. It's where you run to when none of the principalities of your conscience will grant you asylum. (page 22)
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). (page 49)
New words:
vespertine (page 109): active in the evening
inchoate (page 119): unclear
cassava (page 138): edible root of a tropical plant
puerile (page 152): childish
derisory (page 166): ridiculous

Recommended.  I have another book by Cleave on my bookshelf that I'm looking forward to reading.

Want to read another review? Here's one by Man of la Book.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Chris Cleaves' website.

This book was sent to me quite awhile ago as a win from a contest in a newsletter. Thanks Random House.

Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave, Simon & Schuster, ©2008. ISBN 9780385665308(Uncorrected Proof), 266p.


  1. I liked this book as well (my thoughts: The main thing that the book had going against it, in my opinion, is how self-important it promised to be.

  2. I have been attracted to this book just because of the curious cover - but the story doesn't sound like my usual cup of tea. I do love the quotes, though, so still may give it a try. Thanks for the honest review.


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