by Chris Cleave
From the author of the international bestseller Incendiary comes a haunting novel about the tenuous friendship that blooms between two disparate strangers—one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London.
Recommended by a friend, I think I’ll now be recommending ‘Little Bee’ to everyone!
When we first meet her, Little Bee is a 16 year old Nigerian refugee imprisoned in an adult immigration detention centre in Essex. An inquisitive and curious girl, Bee has spent the past two years learning the Queen’s English. She and a number of other girls are released from the centre and Bee seeks out hospitality from the only people she knows in the UK: a couple she once met on a beach back home. The story develops into the brutal truth of how she ended up with Andrew O’Rouke’s driving licence and her experience once she arrives on the family’s door step on the day of Andrew’s funeral.
Written in two voices, the story develops as Bee and Andrew’s widow Sarah try to move on with their lives. The transition between such different voices was effortless. Both realistic and likeable, I felt as though these characters were real, honest and, as true to life, flawed. Sarah, a magazine editor, is seen juggling the death of her husband, confusion over her lover and loyalty for the girl she shares a horrific history with. Bee is battling with the perils of being a new country illegally and settling into a new family life while remember tragic events from her past, the only life she knows.
I found myself gripped by every paragraph, I was hooked and didn’t want to put it down. At one point even had to finish a chapter in the gym changing room as I was so emotionally tied to the story and needed to reach a point where it was safe to stop. I felt as though I was there on the beach, I was there in Bee’s hometown of Understanding and I was there in the kitchen dealing with Sarah’s son, Batman. The ending did not disappoint either, I certainly didn’t see it coming and it was truly thought provoking throughout.
“I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly.”
Nothing escapes Little Bee and Chris Cleave has showed that through an acute attention to detail, identifying quirks and peculiarities in the British culture and way of life. As an English teacher, the first chapter was particularly enjoyable.
“You are like sorcerers and you have made your language as safe as your money”
It surprises me that this hasn’t already been turned into a film and I’m sure it will be one day. If I had to criticise something it would be the chapter length which made reading on the bus a little tricky as there were few comfortable stopping places.
Overall rating: An emotional rollercoaster which I would highly recommend. 5 stars!
See my other reviews of books by Chris Cleave here: