I just finished reading “Little Bee” by Chris Cleave. I’m giving it a 2.5 maybe 3 stars out of 5. I enjoyed some parts and was moved by others, and the story was alright, but it was the characters that killed it for me. Other than Little Bee who I liked, Sarah and Lawrence were bothersome.
Sarah is to shallow for me. She was more concerned with Charlie’s grammar than her clinically depressed husband. I couldn’t understand how just days after her husband died she was strolling along the Thames with her secret lover, Lawrence. Like, what the heck is that? But I suppose it makes sense since she stopped loving Andrew long before he died, she wasn’t heavily moved by the death.
I thought it was strange that after Andrew died, she felt that she had to “commit” to Lawrence. That in some odd way she had to be a big girl and make it work with him and not run from the relationship like she did with Andrew. What the hell does that even mean? I was confused here. What can she make “work” with Lawrence when the dude is a married man with three kids at home? What I would tell Sarah is, “Hey, your husband just killed himself. How about take this time to step away from Lawrence, and get some real perspective on your life. Focus on Charlie. Focus on those dreams you have. And Stop shagging another woman’s husband.”
I will give her this, she did confess that if she tried harder she could have saved Andrew. At lease she showed some remorse, a little introspection.
I don’t like Lawrence because his character is weak. He’s full of pity, and repeatedly calls himself a loser and then laughs it off. He acts like a wounded puppy who Sarah needs to comfort, even though she’s the one who just left her husband’s funeral. He’s washed up, apathetic, and carries a negative view about the world. Many times he declares that he needs Sarah and can’t live without her and that he will go to the bottle if she gets away. All this from a man who is married with two kids plus a newborn. He has no depth and didn’t show any care for Little bee, and discouraged Sarah from acting upon her plan to save Little Bee. The man had zero passion.
Little Bee is the best character, the only one I felt for and could relate to. She was devastated by her world but cold still see hope. Her ability to reason what happens around her and articulate how she feels is beautiful for me. Though she is a victim, she is also aware of her own flaws, and is even moved with conviction to confess them. She is strong and lovely and is the kind of character that can see the world in a deeper way than most of us. Most of my favourite lines from the book are from her, which I find very moving.
At the end of the book, I was left feeling for Bee, and wondering what happened to her on the beach when the soldier’s came. The other two characters I could care less about. But isn’t that what books are for? What I love about them is that they take us into someone else’s world, and we find ourselves watching everything take place. We witness character’s making decisions, we watch them act, we beg them to stop. We hear them think, and feel them hurt. As readers, we find our own place in their world and have the power to leave it differently. No matter how good or bad the story is, we come out with a little more than what we went in with.
I came out of this story wanting to be a better person. To not let myself be afraid of feeling so deeply like I do. To have compassion and understanding for those around me, for the difficult situations people are in, overseas and in my own country. I witnessed how a woman can be so unhappy and admit to her relationship falling apart because she let it. I heard the sting of regret and walked from that story never wanting to be a person like her. I didn’t like the characters, but their decisions and lives serve as a confirmation to me that the kind of lives they lead is a kind that I never want. Without passion, I fear I would feel quite dead.
So I’ll be over here, fighting to the death, feeling deeply, and always trying to mend the fences.
“So when the older girls whispered to me, To survive you must look good or talk good, I decided that talking would be safer for me.”
“The African girl they locked up in the immigration detention center, poor child, she never really escaped. In my soul she is still locked up in there, forever, under the fluorescent lights…”
“We must all see scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
“I sat on the ground, with the warm sun shining on my back, and I realized that the earth has not rejected me and the sunlight had not snapped me in two.”
“I reached under my Hawaiian shirt and I undid the band of cotton that held my breasts strapped down. I unwound it and threw it on the ground and ground it into the dirt with the heel of my boot. I breathed deeply in he fresh, clear air.”
“Whenever I need to stop and remind myself how much I once loved Andrew, I only need to think about this. That the ocean covers seven tenths of the earth’s surface, and yet my husband could make me not notice it.”
“Do you remember what it felt like to be her age?…Do you remember back when you felt you could actually do something to make the world better?”
If you enjoy world literature and want a story to take you into the dark days of a detention center and witness how an English couple’s life can be tangled with a Nigerian girl, then I would recommend it.