Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave: But on the other hand …

The Other Hand coverDear Editor

Thank you for your letter addressed to me that appears at the start of Chris Cleave’s novel, The Other Hand, and tells me how wonderful this book is. It was something of a surprise and I must say rather irritating. Being a fairly intelligent reader, I might have guessed that you as the publisher would indeed like a novel you’d produced … Contrary to rumour, I am not actually a moron. Neither, I suspect, are most other readers.

Something of a wasted page then, dear Editor.

I would also, before I get onto the text itself, like to question your use of the blurb, which I include below:

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it so we will just say this: this is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there … Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.

Yes, well, that is pretty bad. Surely you can see that? Why patronise the readership further by not giving them an inkling as to what the book is about? And why compound the error by commanding us not to tell anyone else about the plot in order not to “spoil the surprise for them”? Grrr indeed. I have to tell you that if I’d picked up this book in a shop and read that, I would at once have put it down again with a deep sigh and turned to a book without such a lot of gimmicks even before you get to Page One. I also don’t think much of the very orange and rather too girly cover – it really doesn’t fit, but that’s a minor point, so I’ll not press it. Indeed all this guff is rather too similar to the ridiculous hype which surrounded The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell (or “Anonymous” as she was for a while …), where a mediocre-but-okayish book telling us things women have in fact known for years was made to look good by the simple act of refusing to talk about the author. Perhaps you are refusing to discuss the plot here for similar reasons?…

Therefore I have to admit that, by this time and as you may be able to tell, I was seriously prejudiced against the novel even before I’d started it – which isn’t a great place for a reviewer to be in, so I spent some time gritting my teeth and chanting in order to achieve and maintain the appropriate state of calm expectation required to give the author and the book a fair chance. I hope I managed it, but my goodness you haven’t made it easy for me.

So, here, (at last, and in length of preamble surely taking my cue from yourself), is my review, together with this brief and hopefully helpful plot summary: this book is about the connections and encounters between a middle-class executive Englishwoman called Sarah, and a Nigerian illegal refugee who calls herself Little Bee. They first meet while Sarah is on a beach holiday with her husband, Andrew, in a very unstable area of Nigeria (an event which takes places two years before the novel starts). The horrific incident that happens on that beach leads to Andrew’s death two years later and to Little Bee’s second meeting with Sarah, this time in England. The novel deals with Little Bee’s experiences as a refugee and Sarah’s experiences in coming to terms with her husband’s death and what happened in Nigeria, and how the two women both help and hinder each other.

I must admit I started off prepared to like Sarah – she’s a strong-minded individualist who takes no prisoners, and what’s not to like about that? Here is Sarah preparing for work at the magazine she edits:

I always dressed up for deadline days. Heels, skirt, smart green jacket. Magazine publishing has its rhythms and if the editor won’t dance to them, she can’t expect her staff to. I don’t float feature ideas in Fendi heels, and I don’t close an issue in Pumas.

I also thought the scenes at the start of the day of Andrew’s funeral (though not, sadly, at the funeral itself) were particularly strong, and the book is worth reading just for that.

I imagine the undertaker had been silently standing outside our front door for several minutes, looking at his watch, waiting for our lives to converge onto the precise fault-line at which our past could be cleaved from our future with three soft strikes of the bright brass knocker.

And, at the funeral, this gloriously succinct line:

It was disorientating, like having the entire contents of one’s address book dressed in black and exported into pews in non-alphabetical order.

It is strange therefore how quickly Sarah becomes selfish and unlikeable within the story, and her attitude to both her husband and her lover never seems entirely consistent – one moment she’s swearing undying love to one or the other of them in rather purple prose (no matter that her husband is dead) and the next she’s all but forgotten their existence:

Dear Andrew, I thought. How is it that I feel closer to you now than I did on the day we were married? … I know I need to stick with Lawrence, but at the same time here I am talking to you in my head. This is the forked tongue of grief again, Andrew … My phone went and my eyes snapped open. It was Clarissa.

This, I think, actually slips too much over into the area of melodrama so that it becomes unintentionally amusing – a clumsiness that happens far too often in this book.

Interestingly and more importantly, it struck me about halfway through how little Sarah sometimes actually seems to be a woman at all – this aspect of the characterisation is very much like Sebastian Faulks’ Charlotte Gray where the heroine there comes over as extraordinarily masculine. And unsettling and flawed for that reason. It was only about three-quarters of the way through The Other Hand that I realised that Chris Cleave, the author, is actually a man, and then I began to wonder if he was therefore one of those male writers who can’t write English women. At that point, if I screwed up my readerly eyes and started thinking of Sarah as Simon, it then began to work better. Perhaps the book should be rewritten with Sarah as a man? – the voice of that character might seem more realistic then.

That same process of initially enjoying a character and then becoming increasingly wearied with them occurred with Little Bee, the Nigerian girl who stows away to England to find the couple she met on that far-away beach. It is in describing Little Bee’s world view that the prose is at its most poetic and magical, and these sections of the book are, I admit, delightful.

The orange glow of the night faded and I started to see the fields and the hedges around us. Everything was grey at first, but then the colours began to come into the land – blue and green, but very soft, as if the colours did not have any happiness in them. Then the sun rose, and the whole world turned to gold. The gold was all around me and I was walking through clouds of it.

And this when Little Bee is at Sarah’s home:

We never tasted tea in my village, even though they grow it in the east of my country, where the land rises up into the clouds and the trees grow long soft beards of moss from the wet air. … Myself I never tasted tea until I was exported with it.

I also admit to being gripped by the amusing and unique escape from the detention centre with three fellow refugees. It’s a tour-de-force. But Little Bee doesn’t ever seem to move on or grow from that moment, and she revisits the same scenarios over and over again, with minimally different perspectives. The way she sometimes addresses the reader directly is also too much of a gimmick and hasn’t been done well since Jane Eyre (“Reader, I married him …”). Anyway, this sort of nonsense should have been firmly edited out from the start – what could you have been thinking, dear Editor? I also began to fall out of love with Little Bee when she deserts her small refugee group without so much as a decent farewell – that act seemed very harsh to me, no matter the circumstances of it. Still, at least she does manage to come over as female. Which is a relief.

The men in this novel however get rather short shrift. There were moments when I thought that Andrew, the dead husband, might be a character I could sympathise with, but his general rudeness on the Nigerian beach and his attitude to Sarah did put me off: ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ the white man said, ‘here comes that doofus of a guard again.’ And so on. That said, the scenes where he and Sarah are separated because of her affair, and the consequent telephone call between them are top-notch, and I was definitely rooting for him at that point. It’s just a shame that he … um … dies, so we don’t see more. Ah well.

The other significant character in the novel, Sarah’s married lover Lawrence, is a strange mix. One moment he’s cracking jokes and the next he’s saying how insecure he is. In fact he spends a lot of the novel telling us how insecure he is and, after a while, it becomes – much like Little Bee – simply too repetitive. And not at all amusing. Occasionally he makes an effort and shows a smidgeon of likeability but sadly it doesn’t last long. One wonders why on earth he and Sarah got together in the first place – and indeed their first meeting, its conversations and its outcome is astonishingly stilted and unconvincing.

‘Is it your husband who makes you unhappy?’
‘What? You don’t know anything about my husband.’
‘It was one of the first things you said to me. About your husband and his opinions. Why would you mention him to me at all?’
‘The subject came up.’
‘The subject of your husband? You brought it up.’

And so on. It all seems like a 1950s’ B-movie to me. By the time they got to the point of having sex, I’d lost interest in the whole scene entirely.

Moreover, I would like to congratulate Mr Cleave for creating, in Sarah’s four-year-old son, the most incredibly irritating child I have ever read about in a book. It’s almost a work of genius – but for all the wrong reasons. I hated him. Seriously and deeply hated him. “Batman” (as Charlie is known, due to his costume choices) is whiny, spoilt and too much in the story. Way, way too much. He does go on so. The only joy I found from him was (a) the scene where he falls into his dead father’s grave and then can’t get out – that did make me laugh, partly due to the way it was overwritten, and I wish the author had had the courage to bury him with his wretched parent; and (b) the scene later in the book where he’s shot at. Lord but I wish they hadn’t missed.

Here’s some of the rather overwrought funeral scene:

Charlie stared at me. ‘Is mine daddy in that box?’
‘Your daddy is in heaven, Charlie.’
‘IS THAT BOX HEAVEN?’ said Charlie, loudly.
Everyone was watching us. I couldn’t speak. My son stared into the hole. Then he looked up at me in absolute alarm.
‘Mummy! Get him OUT! Get mine daddy out of heaven!’
I held tightly onto his shoulders. ‘Oh, Charlie, please, you don’t understand!’
‘GET HIM OUT! GET HIM OUT!’
My son squirmed in my grip and broke free … the greengrocer’s grass overlapped the edge of the hole and it yielded under his feet and he fell, with his bat cape flying behind him, down into the grave. He landed with a thump on top of Andrew’s coffin.

The wretched child then won’t come out and the scene drags on. And on. As I say, if I’d been Sarah, I’d have been tempted to leave him there. He’s not a pleasant child.

Which brings me to another essential point about this book. After the poetry of the beginning with Little Bee, the story rapidly descends into melodrama of the most overwrought and heavy-handed kind. Somehow everything is done with the back of the hand held firmly over the brow and a great deal of loud sighing. Or that might actually have been me – it’s hard to tell … The grave incident above is a case in point. And, sadly, like many of the Significant Moments (Capitals deliberate) in the rest of the story, this has rather too much “Carry On …” film overtones to it to be remotely touching. Here is Sarah talking to the hapless Lawrence:

Little Bee has changed me, Lawrence. I can’t look at her without thinking how shallow my life is.

I mean, really!… I fear I have strayed into the script of a particularly hapless soap with no hope of escape. Indeed I kept longing for Sid James or Hattie Jacques to pop up and give them all a piece of their mind. I really wish they had. In fact, I do wonder whether, much like A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka – which started off, if I remember correctly, as a serious novel before her editor thought it was funny so Lewycka put more jokes in – this novel would in fact be better served as a comedy. Perhaps if everyone was busy emoting and rushing about with great drama, we could have a wry-voiced narrator (perhaps the dead Andrew from his position in the world beyond?) giving us an overview and laughing at the antics of his family and their various hangers-on. That might just have worked.

Which brings me neatly to my reworked version of your appalling blurb:

I don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly awful story and I don’t want to ruin your day by trying to explain it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to avoid it so I will just say this: this is the story of two irritating and ultimately dull women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a very melodramatic and unbelievable choice. Two years later, they meet again, unfortunately for the reading world – the story starts there … Once I had read it, I knew I would have to tell all my friends about it, so they could avoid it also and buy a much better book. Any book. When I did so, I realised it was impossible to tell them what happened as none of them would have believed it and they would probably have laughed. The only pure joy was in reaching the end.

So, in conclusion, dear Editor, the trouble we have here (with, I suspect, a book that will, sadly, do well when it absolutely does not deserve to) is an author who, as Stewart of the Booklit site says in the comments section of his review, can write well and poetically when he puts his mind to it, but who has no real notion of how to handle character. We also have an author who has become so obsessed with the no-doubt terrible plight of Nigerian refugees in this country and the traumas that they have to face at home that the story he wanted to tell has virtually been strangled at birth. He should have written a factual account, or – better if he could have managed it – subsumed his righteous indignation to the demands and life of the novel and the characters in it. As every novelist is surely honour-bound to do. This failure is a salutary warning to us all.

Yours faithfully

Anne Brooke
For Vulpes Libris

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave (Sceptre, 2008). ISBN: 978-0340963401.

[Anne is perfectly capable of arranging the melodrama in her own life without other people needing to do it for her. For more information on good funerals and where not to go on a beach holiday, please click here.]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

56 comments on “The Other Hand by Chris Cleave: But on the other hand …

  1. Kirsty (Other Stories)
    August 4, 2009

    Great review Anne! I’ve had a proof copy of this novel sitting at home for *ages*: they were on offer at the London Book Fair last year, and I’m never one to say no to a freebie.

    I read and quite enjoyed Chris Cleave’s first novel, Incendiary, but THE reason I haven’t been able to bring myself to read The Other Hand is the ridiculous gimmickry. The editor’s letter is one of the most patronising things I’ve seen in a long time. And, having read reviews of the novel, I shant be reading it any time soon, I must confess.

  2. kimbofo
    August 4, 2009

    Bravo! I read this book earlier in the year and thought it was far too emotionally manipulative for my liking. It also treated quite serious issues very superficially. And that Editor’s letter is a shocker — what was she thinking, especially to compare the book to Schindler’s Ark!

    My review is here: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2009/02/the-other-hand-by-chris-cleave.html

  3. John Self
    August 4, 2009

    I didn’t review this book as I didn’t finish it. I liked the voice of Little Bee, but found the Sarah narrative maddening and I’m afraid it was ‘Batman’ who finally caused me to give up. I agree entirely with Anne on his character.

    However the book has done well for Cleave, partly through promotion in Waterstone’s as their Book Circle choice for January 2009, and partly I guess because a lot of people like that sort of thing. (Kimbofo calls it emotionally manipulative; the word that sprang to mind for me was sentimental. For the Calcutta Times it was “unbearably maudlin”.)

    The ‘love letter’ from the editor might also have been something to do with what I understand was a large deal which Cleave got from Sceptre for this book and his next. A big spend requires strong promotional measures – and here we are all talking about it!

  4. John Self
    August 4, 2009

    …And I liked Scott Pack’s response to the Editor’s letter. (“You don’t know me but…” “Actually I do know [her, and] employed her in her previous job”.) It also features Anne Brooke! I wonder if Anne knew back then that her path would cross with Cleave’s once more…

  5. Roderic Vincent
    August 4, 2009

    Great review, Anne. Now I know not to bother with this book, although part of me is perversely drawn towards reading it. I’ll resist: without your guiding voice it might not be so amusing.

  6. Moira
    August 4, 2009

    For some reason I felt the ghost of Oscar Wilde hovering over this perfectly splendid review. Specifically, his famous comment on the Old Curiosity Shop that it would it would need a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell …

    It’s going to take me some time to rid myself of the image of the obnoxious brat plummeting into the grave, Batman cape flying …

  7. annebrooke
    August 4, 2009

    Many thanks for the comments, everyone – I’m so glad it wasn’t just me who felt this about TOH! I am rather more than spooked about the curious historical connections between Cleave and myself however, John. The plot thickens indeed …

    And, Moira, yes – perhaps the spirit of Oscar could still have saved the book!

    🙂

    Anne B

  8. CarolineG
    August 4, 2009

    Oh wow, I’m putting up a tembling hand here and coughing nervously before saying [in a whisper] ‘I loved this book…’
    I did find that blurb extremely annoying, but, ahem, I still bought it.
    I have to disagree about that line at the graveside…the scene with the little boy moved me to tears. It’s exactly what a child of that age would say, in my opinion.
    [slinks off….]

  9. Lisa
    August 4, 2009

    Really interesting review, Anne. I found it quite hard to get into this book, and alas gave up on it, but wasn’t sure if the somewhat unusual marketing tactics had prejudiced me against it, or if it just wasn’t the sort of book for me.

    I totally get what Roderick means when he says “although part of me is perversely drawn towards reading it” because I’m now much more curious about the book than before and would like to check out some of the sections you quote…

    “I am rather more than spooked about the curious historical connections between Cleave and myself however, John.” Indeed! Weird.

    Oh and the book has another cover here.

    Thanks for the review. Fascinating points you raise.

  10. Caroline Rance
    August 4, 2009

    Really entertaining review, Anne. I’m quite keen to read this now! A couple of people have recommended it to me as they absolutely loved it, so I’m wondering who I’ll agree with.

    The editor’s letter does sound off-putting, though. There was something similar in The Shack and I thought it was a really tacky approach.

  11. Roderic Vincent
    August 4, 2009

    If Caroline liked it, I have to read it. Also, that line: “the greengrocer’s grass overlapped the edge of the hole” has stayed with me all day, bringing vivid funereal images. Surely, that’s meant to be a slightly comic line, no?

  12. Roderic Vincent
    August 4, 2009

    Crossed with another Caroline – how spooky.

  13. CarolineG
    August 4, 2009

    I’ll feel very responsible now, Rod, if you hate it! I am quite relieved to know I am not the only who loved it, Caro…

  14. annebrooke
    August 4, 2009

    Oh, CarolineG, don’t slink off! There’s room for all here at VL, naturally! I’m pleased some people have enjoyed the read – the worst thought is that a reader will be indifferent, after all. Loving something, as well as hating it, are both great responses, to my mind.

    I am now even more spooked by Roderic’s links with the Carolines though – something is definitely happening in the shadows, I fear … And one can of course only hope you’re right about that greengrocer line.

    ==:O

    Anne B

  15. CarolineG
    August 4, 2009

    No, nothing strange there! We are all just Strictly Writing blog members, that’s all!
    Consider me un-slunk 😉

  16. annebrooke
    August 4, 2009

    Hurrah! Glad it’s all above board, CarolineG!

    🙂

    Axxx

  17. Sam
    August 4, 2009

    I started reading the book and got to the funeral scene and had to stop as my eyes had started bleeding. Sentimental, mawkish. I felt embarrassed for the author. But it has sold by the truckload. Judging by the gushing comments on his website, most of his fans to be appear to be women.

  18. CarolineG
    August 4, 2009

    Why is that a bad thing, Chris? You seem to be suggesting it is.
    Can I just ask something: does anyone above who hated that graveyard scene have young children? I’m just curious..

  19. Sam
    August 4, 2009

    Hi – sorry, I can see how that might have come across, but I was just pointing out that his book appears to have struck more of a note with women (in the way that some books do – like women’s fiction) and, as I’m not one (a woman), I may not be the target audience.

    And it’s Sam!

  20. annebrooke
    August 4, 2009

    Interesting point, CarolineG – and I do freely admit to not liking children and having none, as a result. At the same time, there are some of my friends’ children I like and others I do not (I am not specifying which under any circumstances!! Ever! I know what’s good for me!).

    Keeping for the moment to the grave scene, I did actually start off finding it moving but as it went on, I then suddenly saw the funny side. Perhaps he should have stopped while he was ahead?

    Of course, my reactions may only show up my naturally psychotic tendencies. It’s been said before and is a strong possibility …

    🙂

    Axxx

  21. Sam
    August 4, 2009

    I don’t have kids but neither do I think you have to have kids to find scenes involving kids moving – it’s the author’s job to move me with the power of their writing. (I’m not gay either, but I found The Master very moving.) My issue with that scene – and what I read up to that point – was with the writing. But, as ever, what one reader finds mawkish and gag-inducing, another finds deeply moving and heartfelt. It’s a mystery.

  22. CarolineG
    August 4, 2009

    Sorry Sam for getting your name wrong! That’s a fair point that an author should make you feel something regardless of relevant experiences. But I do think that scene will have moved parents more than others – the speech patterns were bang on for a boy of that age and I suppose it’s just the thought of your own child having to face up to the finality of death that gives it such power.

    Anne, you do realise that all your friends with children are frantically wondering now which camp they’re in, don’t you!

  23. annebrooke
    August 4, 2009

    I have friends, Caroline?? Well, gosh!…

    🙂

    Axxx

  24. Stewart
    August 4, 2009

    Thanks for linking. Yes, it’s a daft book. We can’t blame Cleave for the marketing – and I wonder if it’s the same ‘dazzling mind’ behind the Dear Reader crap that’s currently doing stupid promos with Benioff’s paperback – although I wonder how complicit he was. As long as it sells books, right?

    Although I thought The Other Hand was a terrible book I was considering having a stab at his previous novel, Incendiary, as I’d heard good things about it. Then I read this, which effectively put me off him for life. No bad thing, I suppose, as it’s one less bad review when the printers gear up for his third novel.

  25. annebrooke
    August 4, 2009

    Goodness, they really didn’t like that first one, did they?!?

    !!!

    Axxx

  26. rosyb
    August 4, 2009

    I was going to say Carry On Films, Sid James and Hatty Jacques, a character who talks to camera and melodrama? What’s not to love? Sounds made for me, this book! (Love a bit of melodrama, me.)

    I have to say I disagree with you on Tractors, Anne, which I really enjoyed and found refreshingly different – liked the way the characters were both criticised and affectionately presented in equal measure. I wonder if I would agree with you on this one. Must say that the funeral scene as presented here doesn’t appeal but I suppose it is unfair to look at things out of context. Interesting argument between Caroline and Sam over whether you need to be a parent to relate to certain depictions – I’ve often found myself often parting company with parents over whether characters (parents) are sympathetic or melodramatic in books. I’ve decided that extreme mother love is perhaps the most difficult thing for a writer to make readers who aren’t mothers relate to. At least with love love or passionate love, most of us have something to pin the idea to.

    These books sound very high concept. Perhaps the reason that they are being snapped up by Hollywood already. This editor’s letter thing seems very unusual. But I read that this sort of thing is coming in. Anyone know why or what triggered that? Presumably they can’t keep doing them, can they? Won’t they run out things to not say? 🙂 But I’m reminded a little of Eve’s review where she gave nothing away about the plot. I must say, I like the idea of going “it’s funny but the beach scene is horrific”. Without the you will tell everyone you know about it bit.

    But, however off-putting it seems, (and I admit it does seem a bit offputting to me as a reader), as a piece of marketing it seems to have really worked because it has got everyone talking in heated terms about it and created instant word of mouth. I’d say a controversy is the way to go for creating a buzz. (Notes down in notepad.)

  27. Anne
    August 5, 2009

    Didn’t like it either – my thoughts are here (scroll down, if you care)
    : http://www.belgianwaffle.net/?p=1298.

    I really did like the child though which makes me think that, if I knew Anne she would not, alas, like my children.

  28. annebrooke
    August 5, 2009

    Ah yes, I know, Rosy – I am probably the only person in the world to hate Tractors and find it dull. And I see what you mean about the marketing success – I just wish they’d tagged it onto a better book and it hadn’t left such a bad taste in the mouth!

    🙂

    And, Anne, I so agree with you about the concerns overriding the characters. Though I’m sure your children are utterly perfect in every way!

    🙂

    Axxx

  29. Nadia
    August 5, 2009

    So glad to read your review of this book! I did not like this book either and found the whole “keep the plot secret” so gimmicky that I was not even sure I wanted to read the book. Well I read it and did not like the characters at all. I liked the beginning when Little Bee is at the detention center and her and her fellow detentionees leave the center and I wish that we had more time with those characters. After that I could care less. It was just badly created character after badly created character and a plot that went nowhere. Very boring and unimaginative. So glad that I am not the only one who did not like this book! Cheers!!!

  30. annebrooke
    August 5, 2009

    Thanks, Nadia – and you’re right – I don’t think we’re entirely alone! Like you, I wish we could have explored the detention centre people and the scenes there for far far longer. That would have been good.

    🙂

    Anne B

  31. Pingback: The Other Hand, by Chris Cleave « ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  32. Lisa Hill
    September 6, 2009

    Delighted to find that others were as irritated as I was! (See
    http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/2009/09/06/the-other-hand-by-chris-cleave/)
    Lisa

  33. annebrooke
    September 6, 2009

    Thanks for popping by, Lisa! I quite agree with you about the manipulation side of it too.

    🙂

    Anne B

  34. Clare
    October 26, 2009

    Hi Anne,

    Thanks for your review – it was very funny and interesting, and yes, I agree with your thoughts on the Editor’s Letter. I am presenting on this book for a 4th year Reimagining Britian course at univeristy and have been a bit stuck on academic critical analysis, so thought I would have a look on at some informal book reviews instead.

    I am going to investigate globalization within the novel – how far we as readers are complicit in willful ignorance of the plight of others.

    Just one comment on your ideas about the character of Charlie. His father has just died and I think criticising him as a character who is “whiny” and “not pleasant” is unfair and a little naive, to be honest. How else do you think a 4 year old child would react? More sensitivity might be appropriate in your crtitique.

    Thanks for a different take on the novel though, it has been useful for me, and judging by the responses you have received, many people agree with you.
    Clare

  35. Anne Brooke
    October 26, 2009

    Thanks so much for the comments, Clare – and good luck with the course presentation! Sounds fascinating.

    Yes, as you can tell, I’m not a great fan of badly-written children – or indeed any child. Alas, my comments were about as sensitive as I could make them … Which probably says rather too much about me!

    🙂

    Axxx

  36. Clare
    October 30, 2009

    Thanks Anne, thankyou for the luck – I am going to need all I can get! So far, the line I am taking makes me sound like an anti-government maniac against globalization, the media, the western world and everything in between…!
    Haha, yes I know where you are coming from about Charlie, maybe I was too protective of him!!
    Without meaning to sound like a stalker, I followed a link to your home page and discovered you are a writer! How exciting! I am on a 4th year creative writing couse, led by Kirsty Gunn, a New Zealand novelist – and it’s fab!
    How is the writing world? How do you balance things in your life? Sorry to ask such strange questions, it is just that I am loving the thought of being a writer post-uni….(decided that I am going to be in debt for life!)

    Clare xx

  37. annebrooke
    October 30, 2009

    The debt is very true, Clare – but the main thing is to enjoy the writing!

    :))

    Anne B

  38. Sophie
    November 2, 2009

    SUCH a brilliant review. I’ve just read the book and was shocked at how badly and unbelievably it was plotted, and how poor a lot of the language was. A shame, as it’s a subject area that deserved better – especially better characterisation. One scene that made me laugh my head off was the absolutely appalling sex scene at the Home Office. So bad, it was hilarious. I had to stop myself laughing on the train in case people thought I was laughing at the scenes of brutal cruelty.
    Anne, I love the way you’ve made this review a riposte to the Editor and her nauseating introduction.

  39. annebrooke
    November 2, 2009

    Thanks for the comments, Sophie! Good to know there’ll be at least two of us who aren’t going to be tempted by the next Cleave novel!…

    🙂

    Axxx

  40. Hands Nails
    December 4, 2009

    Informative post, can’t say i agree with all of it but i think you’re shooting in the right direction. Keep up the good work. Pleasure to read as always! 😉

  41. annebrooke
    December 4, 2009

    I’m always astonished when I can shoot the dang gun at all, but thanks for the comment!

    🙂

    Anne B

  42. Monah
    May 3, 2010

    What a joy to read your review. I haven’t been so annoyed by a book for a long time and actually I found the dialogue so artificial that I started skipping paragraphs and finally i was unable to finish apart from a cursory glance at the last page. Your comments are spot on and it has been a relief to see them in print after wading through reams of starry eyed praise. Chris Cleave reminds me slightly of the dreadful Jason Webster, all enthusiastic and completely unrealistic prose, but amaziningly people wish to read this tosh. Thanks for the breath of fresh air.

  43. annebrooke
    May 3, 2010

    Thanks for the comments, Monah – much appreciated! I gather Jason Webster is another one for me to avoid. I wouldn’t want to raise my blood pressure any further!!

    🙂

    Axxx

  44. Mary O'Malley
    May 5, 2010

    What an excellent review! I hated this book from the very first chapter where Little Bee wishes she could be an English pound. What a ridiculous concept!I was almost glad to hate it. At least one can get one’s teeth into listing all the absurdities! There is no need to list them as you have done a very good job, Anne. Could I just add that it is hardly credible that a reputable journalist and an editor of a magazine, however glossy, would have gone on holiday to such a dangerous area and secondly, even more incredible that they would have strayed out of the compound. Charlie is unreal and he badly needs a speech therapist if he talks like that at the age of four.. We all know four year old’s attention span. He’s hardly going to be Batman for about four months! I have a four old grandson who goes from Robin Hood to Tigger to the Incredible Bookeating Boy to Buzz Light Years all in one morning.

  45. annebrooke
    May 5, 2010

    Thanks, Mary! And excellent points about the unrealism of the journalist thing – I hadn’t cottoned onto that. I suspect you’re right about the boy too – how I hated the pesky Charlie!!

    All good wishes

    Anne B

  46. Wendy
    June 9, 2010

    LOL – I also hated the hype and the marketing of this book which I think did a disservice to the author. I found the book okay…didn’t hate it quite as much as you did… I don’t understand all the accolades.

  47. annebrooke
    June 9, 2010

    Thanks for the comments, Wendy. Yes, the book has raised a whole range of different reactions in people. But, like you, that hype set my teeth on edge! 🙂

    Axxx

  48. Pingback: A Despatch from the Dark Side … « Vulpes Libris

  49. Kathy Forsyth
    June 7, 2011

    Thank you Anne just having the precise reaction I had to this book – I could have written every word you said. Started with a reasonable premise, and drowned itself in overwriting, ridiculous scenarios, unlikeable and unbelievable characters and a generally heavy hand. When books are marketed with this type of hype, it is refreshing to read an honest, intelligent account of the real experience of reading it. I look forward to researching more reviews by you in my search for the perfect book.

  50. annebrooke
    June 7, 2011

    Thanks for the comments, Kathy – and much appreciated! It’s certainly a book I won’t be reading again … I do hope your search through our Book Foxes reviews uncovers the perfect book for you 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

  51. Oli
    October 21, 2011

    Any chance that most of you are also on mumsnet? The bile with which you review this book and it’s editor seem to fit well with the angry middle class mum clan. How about next time you try reading a book you have a nice cup of tea with it and remember…reading is meant to be fun. And not all books were written for you.

  52. annebrooke
    October 21, 2011

    Dear Oli. Many thanks for the comments. I do so agree that reading is meant to be fun, and for that reason I will definitely be avoiding Cleave in the future 🙂

    Oh, and I’m not a mum, and I’m quite beautifully chilled today – but one out of three ain’t bad!

    Anne

  53. Lisa Glass
    October 21, 2011

    Anne, I think Oli might have missed your review of Sara Shepard’s “All the things we didn’t say” where you refer to yourself as “the great child-hater of Vulpes”. . .

  54. annebrooke
    October 21, 2011

    You may well be right, Lisa 🙂 Ooh, look, a nice cup of tea – sorry, must dash!…

    Anne
    xxx

  55. Moira
    October 21, 2011

    Don’t forget the fluffy slippers, Anne. They’re an absolute ‘must’, dear …

  56. annebrooke
    October 21, 2011

    But of course, Moira – one goes nowhere without them! 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

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This entry was posted on August 4, 2009 by in Entries by Anne, Fiction, Fiction: literary and tagged , , .

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