(In Europe sold as: The Other Hand)
I first picked up this book in a bookstore here in Germany two years ago, give or take a year. The book cover drew me in, but to my dismay, on the back, I was told that the story was of such uniqueness, they could not even tell me what it was--only that it involved two women. Intrigued, and a bit embarrassed that such a marketing parlor trick was working with me, I ended up not buying the book. Later, when I wanted it, because I had no idea what it was about (and I had forgotten the name), it was impossible to find.
Quite randomly, my friend let me borrow this book from her private shelf, and turning it over, I was surprised to see it was the book I had wanted to read way back then. Now I could see if that marketing hubbub had been a trick, and the final verdict is:
I was impressed by the control this writer had over his two female narrators (especially with Bee, who was more believable than Sarah) and the intricacy of the book's construction in general. The events unfolded through a series of flashbacks and retellings between characters. Such devices can get very clunky, but the author managed them well. I loved the language of the book and the feel of a female 'chorus' throughout--It made me homesick for my Jamaican friend, though she does not talk like that one character hahaha.
The plot had some Dickensian coincidences: If such things bother you, you will get annoyed--I myself have no problems with rather farfetched plot developments, though the final encounter causing the fall of the main character (I will not reveal the spoiler, but if you've read it, you'll know what I mean) was plain silly. The author could have come up with a handful of other more plausible ways to get Little Bee into the same situation and I wonder why he chose that one.
Perhaps my only major problem with the book was that it was too goody goody for me. Though both narrators are sympathetic, the author tries in turn to give their characters troubling moral shadows, but these ambiguities did not ring entirely true. Maybe it is my bent for misanthropy, but I kept feeling that both characters were a little too selfless and 'good' for my taste, for lack of a better term.
It was an enjoyable and faced-paced read though, with some beautiful language and imagery, but I'm not sure if it warranted the enigmatic description on the back.