I used to be an avid reader when I was a school kid. I would read anything I could get my hands on (even encyclopaedias – no kidding! What a dork!) but my favourite was always fiction, preferably of the fantasy kind and even better if it had a young girl with auburn hair, eyes like fire and a heart of gold as its protagonist, and oh I’d be completely sold if she also had to pretend she was a boy and was smarter and better at all the boy stuff than all the actual boys. Oh, and a talking animal, there’s gotta be a talking animal. (You know the sort of book I’m talking about, I know you do. Literary classics, I tell ya.) I’d spend many a night caught up in sword fights, dragon rides, secret romances with princes, and noble quests, always saving lives, always breaking hearts.
So my latest read, Little Bee by Chris Cleave, has really turned all of that on its head. To tell you the truth, I found it whilst browsing in this awesome secondhand book and record store we stumbled upon whilst in Los Angeles, The Last Bookstore, and only bought it because I loved the cover art, and the fact that it had the words “#1 New York Times bestseller” on the front meant that it hopefully wouldn’t be that boring. (Yeah, really highbrow.) It’s still fiction, but based on a real life scenario and there certainly aren’t any swashbuckling adventures, elves, wizards or damsels.
The incredible beauty of this book really lies in its artful narrative, the voices alternating between its two protagonists, and in the way in which the story behind the story unfolds. They’re both women but from such immensely different poles of life, they really couldn’t be any more different. The book explores so many difficult and grey areas in life, and also manages to portray moments of the highest highs and lowest lows of humanity plus everything in between with perfect proportions of painful poignancy, blunt realism and even lightheartedness in all the right doses and at all the right times. Two pages into the book and I even completely forgot it was written by a man and not two women with different voices. Just incredible.
I don’t want to give too much away because that would ruin the experience of reading this book. Just do it. Borrow my copy! I opened mine at the beginning of our flight back home from Penang and before I knew it we were touching down in Perth with only ten pages to go – it took all my willpower to close the book but I soon had my nose buried back into it. It is seriously gripping, even to the end. I also bought Cleave’s equally lauded debut novel, Incendiary, which I’m sure will be accompanying me to Broome and will be whipped out the moment I have a few hours to spare.
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles