Sep 21, 09
Read in August, 2009
Isn't it funny when novels from their origin countries are marketed in the ol' U. S. of A. under a different title because it will 'sell better'. I can just imagine the pain the author must feel when they find that the title that represents their book seems as if it's just not good enough for the American public. I can think of a few such occasions where such a thing has happened:
*Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman = The Golden Compass.
*Harry Potter and Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling = Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone.
*Cross Stitch, by Diana Gabaldon = Outlander
I'm sure there are reasons other than pandering to the fickle U.S. market and I'm being a cranky biddy, but whatevs.
Anyhoo, on with The Other Hand (or is it Little Bee)? This book is one of those - you know - it's one of those stories where a tragic event occurs and the real story is how people's lives intertwine and fall apart and lump in a heap together afterwards.
In this case the tragic event takes place on a Nigerian beach, where Sarah and her husband are white tourists enjoying a walk along the sand. In a few moments, they are faced with a choice: sacrifice a part of themselves to save the lives of two young Nigerian women, or leave them in the hands of the cruel and save themselves.
My version of this book doesn't have a blurb on the back. Instead it says that the publishers "don't want to spoil" the book by saying too much - so they don't say anything at all. It's such a marketing ploy - I was skeptical when I read that line, and now that I've read the book to see what all the fuss is about, I'm still skeptical. Non-blurbed books should only be reserved for the rarest of circumstances, where (a) the book is so ludicrously plotted but brilliantly written that it doesn't deserve being 'boxed in' by its own blurb, or (b) where the book is such an old classic that everyone young and old knows a version of the story in their head (even those who haven't been taught to read).
The Other Hand does not fit into either of these two categories, and I'm afraid that the book's mystery generated by a clever publishing scheme has only served to make me think of itas a greedy, money-making 'meh' book that to be frank, I've already forgot half of what I was going to write about it and this book review is feeling a bit of a chore - I wasn't passionate about this book at all.
Perhaps I am being a little too harsh though. Its a tightly-wound story...it's small, and efficient, and there are some pretty turns of phrase. I wasn't overly bored... Chris Cleave is not without talent... and my version has a pretty sparkly orange cover....
Really, I can't quite put my finger on why exactly I'm not won over by this book. I can think of flaws that may contribute to my point of view, but nothing major that I can put my finger on.
I think that perhaps, it may have something to do with this book not quite 'ringing true'. The event itself doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But again, I can't talk about it.
The intertwining of Little Bee's perspective and Sarah's perspective is interesting for the first half of the book, but it gets old. I think I found it kind of indulgent in the way it props Little Bee's Afrikaan-learning-proper-Queen-English against Sarah's glamorous sensible westernised personality, as if it's a book geared especially for middle-class women pretending they know how a Nigerian woman might think, and feeling better about themselves by showing empathy for Little Bee.
Actually, I've got the perfect way of explaining it - it's a book that would have a ready home on Oprah, I imagine. And that aint really a compliment - because these last 10 years or so Oprah has dug herself a hole of appealing to white middle-class women and in doing so has turned herself into one of them. It's a bit of a shame really all round...It's just so hard to explain why I get these feelings without spoiling the book. So I'll keep what needs to be kept secret, secret. You're owed that much.
I realise this is a totally higgledy-piggledy book review that could be very confusing but look at what I have to work with, people! A story that can't be spoiled and either way fails to live up to expectations! It's not really as bad as I may it seem - I'm just a bit furious with the publishers, really. It's not Chris Cleave's fault they made a boo-boo just to cash in.
Wow, harsh, Aimee, at least the author tried to write an awesome literary novel, eh? eh?
I feel a headache coming on...
2 stars for The Other Hand.