Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Little Bee

Today, I am going to break the rules. They are my rules, so I can break them if I want, but I do not do it lightly. Rules are there to be obeyed. You can't just go breaking them willy nilly, following the ones you feel like and ignoring the ones you can't be arsed with today. So, which rules am I breaking today?

Rule # 1 Finish what you have started. I am only in Brazil. I am supposed to be writing about the thundering waters of Iguazu Falls. I am not supposed to be sidetracked by "other things" until I am safely ensconced back in Canada. I still have Argentina, Chile and The Galapagos to write about. Oh well, since I have been back home for several months now, I suppose I can bend that rule.

Rule # 2 Don't write book reviews. Why? Because I am not good at writing book reviews. Generally, I can say "I like it" or "I don't like it" and that is about it.

Rule # 3 Never recommend books - what if nobody else likes it? I then waste everybody's time when they read the book that I have recommended and then nobody likes me any more.

Rule # 4 Liking a book that I shouldn't. I can't really explain that rule, since it would spoil the ending of the book. Once you have read it, get back to me and I will explain rule #4.

So, here it is - my review of "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave.

I picked this book up on Saturday night and put it down on Sunday night. It is just one of those rare books that, after only one page, you know you will not put down until you have finished it. People to see, places to go? Doesn't matter, I have a book to read. Work that has to be done, toilets that have to be cleaned? Doesn't matter, I have a book to read. Aged parents that need feeding or a cat that needs rescuing from the jaws of a snarling, wild-eyed, rabid dog that only last week took the arm off the nice lady collecting for the British Columbia Cancer Agency? Doesn't matter........OK, OK, so I probably would have stopped reading it to rescue a cat, but that is about it. The nice lady from the Cancer Agency is on her own.

So, what is this book about? Well, I can't really tell you too much about the plot, since it asks me, very politely, not too. This is so that you can discover the book all for yourself. I will tell you that it is told from the viewpoints of two very different people. One is a successful, middle class, thirty-something woman with a husband and a four year old child who thinks that he is Batman. The other is a sixteen year old girl who is a refugee seeker from Nigeria. Their lives collide one day on a beach in Nigeria and this book tells the tale that results from that fateful meeting.

It is very hard for me to explain why this book is so special. I am not a spiritual person in any way, shape or form, but this book somehow touched my heart, touched my sense of being and touched my soul. It made me smile and laugh, it made me feel helpless and hopeless, it made me angry and incensed and then ashamed at the way some people are treated by "civilised" countries. It made me cry. Chris Cleave has managed to portray these two women so clearly, so honestly and so convincingly that I had to check that he wasn't a thrity-something year old mum or a sixteen year old Nigerian girl fleeing for her life. Nope, he is 36 and he lives in London.

You know how you think that you might be fairly good at something and then reality hits? I used to think that I was pretty good at trampolining when I was at school. That was until I left the dark brown panelling and musty, sport sock smelling confines of the school hall and went to a real trampolining club and saw four year olds that could outcompete me while attempting to learn how to tie their shoes. I like to think that I can take a decent photo, but then I see a photo that takes my breath away. A landscape that is so pure and clear, the colours so fresh and vibrant, everything bathed in that perfect early morning light as the sun just peeps above the horizon. Or that picture of a coyote just as it leaps into the air over a pure white bank of snow, its eyes, its whole being focussed on its next meal, all in crisp focus, all just perfect. It just makes me want to put all my camera gear up for sale on E-Bay. The same goes for my writing. I would like to think that I don't just type out a load of old drivel that someone in passing might happen to read. But then I come across a book like this and I am reduced to thinking "Well, at least my spelling and grammar are OK." Here is just one example of the magical use of words by this author:

"It was the month of May and there was warm sunshine dripping through the holes between the clouds, like the sky was a broken blue bowl and a child was trying to keep honey in it."

I can't even come close to that. So, quit reading this and go and read "Little Bee" instead. If you like it, great, if not, please don't blame me!