Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Itsy bitsy little practice run

The last time we were in the UK I bought Silly Billy by Anthony Browne. In it, the main character Billy worries about all kinds of things:

He worries about hats,
     He worries about shoes,
          He worries about clouds.

Lately, I've been worrying about the British Book Challenge that I've signed up to do.

I worry that my reviews will not be up to the mark,
     I worry that the books I read will be better than anything I can write,
          I worry that I won't like the books I read.

I suppose on the 'let's worry about more important things' front, I should worry about choosing the books. Who would have thought that in the 9-12 year old, fantasy genre there would be so many Australian writers? Or such a large number of books about dragons? Or books only available in hardback at the moment (such as the Ogre of Oglefort!) But after a little bit of research, I think I have chosen three books to get me started. I'm only starting with three because a) I'm not hugely convinced that I am writing for the 9-12 age range yet, but I can't find a 'tween section on Amazon. b) Because I can't commit myself to twelve straight away, so I'm going to do it in groups of three.

Next there is the how to write the review. In my blog travels I have seen that there there seems to be a certain format for reviewing books, whereas I tend to wibble on endlessly and kind of decide on the spot whether I like it or not. But in the spirit of trying to improve my reviews, and as the title of this post suggests, here is a wee practise run about a book I've just finished.

Title: The Other Hand
Author: Chris Cleave
Published: Sceptre, 2009

Synopsis:   On a sunny Nigerian beach two years ago, successful Sarah Summers and Little Bee fleeing from the men who have attacked her village meet. What happens on that beach profoundly changes both their lives. Two years later; the two meet again in England, Little Bee is now an illegal immigrant and Sarah has just lost her husband and is coming to terms with being a single parent. As their story unfolds we learn where the women have come from and how their lives became entwined. The story goes back and forth from Little Bee's and Sarah's point of view.

Star parts: The story starts from the moment where Little Bee is in the queue to leave the Immigration detention centre. Cleave does a fantastic job of weaving the story backwards and forwards in such a seamless fashion, that we never get lost in the story.

Little Bee's life and her reflections are eye opening. In fact the way he builds characters are amazing. Each of the women in the queue come to life before our eyes as we read the pages. The way he gets us to know each character through the see through plastic bags they carry is impressive.

Cleave has an ability to build the tension to such a point that he gets the reader to feel the exact emotions the characters are feeling. When Little Bee describes what ultimately happens to her sister as she is under the upturned boat, it is almost as if you can feel the heat and smell the sand and salt in the sea. There are parts of this story that will stay with the reader for a long time.

Black clouds: But - and I think in retrospect that this may be intentional - Sarah was awful. I found that with every page I turned I grew to dislike her more and more. I had no sympathy for her character and for someone who was meant to be intelligent, she was incredibly stupid, selfish and just downright odious. Towards the end of the book when she turns up on the plane you just know that the simple fact of her being there is an omen of catastrophes to come. That's Sarah's role in the book, to monumentally screw things up.

Another  black cloud was that although on the whole I liked the Little Bee character , I thought she was  older. I was never very clear about her age and it was only halfway through the book when Sarah's character clears up this issue that I realised how very young she was. It then made me think about whether Little Bee would act the way she did. 

Do I recommend it: Personally, I think  hearing an immigrant's story is important, and I think Chris Cleave does too, that's why he wrote the book, but unfortunately, as I close the book this is the overwhelming feeling that I am left with: Cleave wanted to write a book about immigration. Maybe it was the hokey : 'We don't want to tell you about what happens in this book.' blurb on the back or the 'notes' the author felt compelled to include, or the senior editors effusive: 'I hope you love this book as much as I do', but the alarm bells began ringing . If the book is so great why does Cleave feel the need to apologise for not being a Nigerian woman? Why won't he tell us about the book? And of course the senior editor loves the book. So my recommendation is that I half recommend it. If you do choose to read the book, skip those bits and read the book on the basis that it is a story and that Cleave is a halfway decent storyteller. Then tell me what you think.


Becky said...

Hi! This is a lovely review and you give a rounded view of the story and the characters. You also raise an interesting question which is something I personally love in reviews.

Enjoy the challenge but do not worry about the challenge. It is for fun and to share a love of British books. Certainly not to induce stress.

Tell me what genre or things you were hoping to read. I could always send you a book that might be helpful for what your writing. If you want send me an email (thebookette @ googlemail.com) and we can come up with some idea of books that may be available there.

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Thanks Becky. Don't worry it hasn't induced too much stress. How can I describe it... well I think I said it, it's that commitment thing and also I chose books by such random criteria: radio 4 book at bedtime. And I used to pick them because blogs recommend them, but now there are so many blogs recommending so many books, I feel like choosing something new... You see I just create problems for myself! I will send you an e mail and try and pin down what I'm looking for!


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