Customer Review

105 of 115 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Over-inflated sense of its own importance...and a royal waste of time..., 1 July 2009
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This review is from: The Other Hand (Paperback)
I realise now that some of the negative reviews of this book have actually been rather charitable. I ignored them at my peril. Bar the second and best written chapter in this literary travesty (the reason I've given it two stars instead of one), this novel is a poorly researched, stereotype-ridden, self-important and manipulative waste of time.

Cleave wanted to make a point about refugees and asylum seekers and chooses the most clumsy and heavy-handed way possible to do it. The moral: people in the west lead such shallow and selfish lives and those darkies way yonder have such a hard time of it. Ergo westerners should be more grateful for their lot and help out a bit and Johnny foreigner should always hope for a great 'white' messiah to come to their rescue.

Cleave unwisely picked a country like Nigeria, not somewhere relatively obscure thus if he got things factually wrong hardly anyone would notice. Judging by what Cleave said in the Notes section of the book he watched some news reports on conflicts over oil taking place in Nigeria's Delta states and had the temerity to try and give his own-half baked view on what can be a very complex issue. He chooses the wrong ethnic group and part of the country to set these scenes of immense conflict. He assumes Nigerians -despite re-iterating several times that it's an anglophone country- don't know how to speak correct English unless they read the Times or Guardian. This is inspite of the fact a good deal of us already speak Dickensian English without need of even setting foot in Blighty. Cleave claims he got the protagonist, Little Bee's, 'authentic' Nigerian speech patterns from close listening and reading a couple of books on Nigerian idioms. He clearly didn't do a good job. A pity then that he didn't visit the country or actually ask any Nigerians to verify some of the aspects of 'The Other Hand' as he would have spared us the insult and embarrassment on his part. According to Cleave's view of contemporary Nigerians, we spend a lot of time running through Jungles, not knowing what the sea looks like and being really surprised at big buildings. Strange that since Little Bee is meant to be Igbo and thus as with many if not most Nigerians, even those living in villages, the metropolis or the beach would not come as any big culture shock. Neither do we have problems understanding what the word 'efficiency' means or the workings of major motorways since Nigeria has quite a few of its own(!)It's a wonder he didn't have us swinging from tree to tree with the help of some well placed vines.

Good grief. Cleave's representation of middle class English women is scarcely less insulting. Sarah O'Rourke nee Summers is capricious and self-absorbed. She's also bored of her life as a successful editor, wife and mother. So it's no surprise - and we should therefore really sympathise with her - when she embarks on an affair with a bland married man, because her clinically depressed husband is an insomniac who shouts a lot and doesn't revolve his world around her. The characters in the 'Other Hand' are utterly unbelievable. They have ridiculously long-winded verbose conversations that beggar credibility. Cleave uses their dialogue as convenient plot devices instead of staying true to reality and doing justice to their characters. Sarah beds her lover very shortly after her husband kills himself in their matrimonial bed despite apparently feeling bad that she didn't try harder with her marriage. At one point in the book Sarah opines...

'You start off thinking you can kill all the baddies and save the world......and then you get a little bit older...and comfortable and you start wondering whether that badness you've seen in yourself is really that bad at all...'

Her lover then replies...

'Maybe that's just developing as a person, Sarah'

(Sarah) sighed and looked out at Little Bee.

'Well...maybe this is a developing world...'

Honestly and truly, I kid you not. The characters are this implausible. The dialogue is THAT lacking in subtlety. I really couldn't work out if Cleave wanted me to actually be this detached and contemptuous. He gave the characters no real depth or complexity...none that he didn't try and spell out for the reader himself instead of SHOWING us.

As an African, as a Nigerian, as a woman, as a citizen of Britain and as a reader I was insulted by this book on so many levels. I can't say the amount of times I wanted to dash it across the room but felt I had to finish it out of principle..especially if I planned to warn others.

Do not let the mysterious pre-amble or the suspicious-looking letter of encouragement from Cleave's editor fool you as it did me. This is no masterpiece. You shouldn't want to tell your friends about it unless you wish to point out what a farce it is. In the Notes section Cleave states... 'The novel's hits are down to the kind people who helped me; the misses are all mine'. If that be the case, he has a lot more to answer for than any number of good follow ups to 'The Other Hand' could compensate. I for one am not inclined to read anything else by Cleave if it resembles this drivel.
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Tracked by 1 customer

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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Jan 2010 18:50:23 GMT
T. Kumar says:
Excellent review- exactly what I would say!

Posted on 17 May 2010 00:21:53 BDT
Mark L says:
Spectacularly good review - summed up precisely all my concerns about this book's neo-colonial tone

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Jun 2010 19:53:43 BDT
S. Laidlay says:
You've said it all - I was so disappointed. I can't square my feelings with the ecstatic reviews from others though - are we living on the same planet??

Posted on 22 Sep 2010 20:06:18 BDT
MikeAl says:
Thanks for this. The book has been chosen by my book group but in the light of this detailed and incisive review I shall give it a miss - there is an infinite choice of wonderful literature out there.

Posted on 7 Feb 2011 10:15:03 GMT
black kat says:
Great review. I'm in the middle of reading this tripe and, and in view of all the critical acclaim, was beginning to wonder if I was going insane. Your review nails all my complaints about the book and enlightens me about the background facts. Many thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Sep 2012 14:36:53 BDT
I absolutely could not agree more with this review

Posted on 22 Jan 2013 15:20:15 GMT
Excellent Review. I have just read this for my book club - my notes as I read I (and re read and re read to try and get 'more' from it) almost exactly mirror yours, excepting I have no experience of Nigeria. Sloppy stereotypical shallow characters and an implausible story. Why?

Posted on 18 Oct 2013 12:39:04 BDT
Head Smack says:
What a fantastic summary of this book. You are spot on with your comments. Whereas I have empathy for the message behind the tale and commend the author for trying to spread the atrocities associated with asylum; I cringed my way through it.
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