Little Fires Everywhere: The New York Times Top Ten Bestseller Paperback – 5 Apr 2018
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Little Fires Everywhere is a straight-up thriller...From the beginning, Ng's confident use of the omniscient voice signals that this is a writer in total control...While the plot whisks you breathlessly along, it lays out the bones of a debate about race and parenthood (Sunday Times, Pick of the Paperbacks)
Just finished Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and now I feel bereft (Nigella Lawson)
Just read it. It's a masterclass in characterisation. Outstanding (Matt Haig)
To say I love this book is an understatement. It's a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection. It moved me to tears (Reese Witherspoon)
I am loving Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Maybe my favorite novel I've read this year (John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars)
Little Fires Everywhere is already setting America ablaze...it held me completely, from start to finish - held me in the sense that even when I wasn't reading it, some part of my head was straining to find out where it would lead next...what will absolutely ensure the success of this book is that while the plot whisks you breathlessly along, it lays out the bones of a debate about race and parenthood - a debate in which Ng deftly, dutifully ensures that everyone has a point (Sunday Times)
A burning house sparks tensions within an all-too-perfect suburban community in a story exploring race, identity and family secrets...She manages the impressive feat of allowing us simultaneously to sink into the world she creates and boggle at its naivety and self-satisfaction...At the same time, the pace and structure of the story keep us turning the pages...This is a novel that convinces and compels; it's a pleasure to read (Guardian, Book of the Day)
The book of the moment (India Knight, Sunday Times)
A free spirit shakes up a complacent community in this wry, beautifully observed novel...One of Ng's strengths is that she makes virtue and normality as fascinating as venality and eccentricity...It is beautifully written (The Times)
It's hard to sum up in this limited space just how fabulous this book is - but trust us, you do not want to miss it. It explores mother-daughter relationships, teen angst, race, love and more, and there's a rumbling corker of a plot twist....Totally unforgettable (Heat's Unmissables)
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The book opens with Bill and Elena Richardson’s prosperous home in Shaker Heights being burnt down, presumably by their youngest daughter, Isabelle (Izzy), about 14, who had a history of crazily rebellious behaviour and who had now disappeared. She has a sister, Lexie (18) and two brothers, Trip (17), and Moody (15). The author is very good on teenagers.
After the description of the fire, the story moves back in time until we come back to the fire at the end. Mrs Richardson is conventional but also generally liberal and generous, although she also has some unlikeable characteristics, and is, in fact, the most complex figure in the book. She owned a duplex property in the less wealthy part of the town, which she liked to rent out at a low rent to people who could not afford much, and she had let it to Mia Warren and her remarkable 15-year-old daughter, Pearl. Mia was a single parent and evasive about her past, even to her daughter. She was an artist who made surrealistic photographs, was not interested in marketing strategies, so made relatively little money out of them and took low-pay part-time work and bought in thrift stores to make ends meet. She and her daughter seemed to settle down in Shaker Heights after many years of restless moves from town to town.
Pearl became a close friend of Moody’s, and eventually he introduced her to his family, and she was overwhelmed by their friendliness, self-assurance and wealth. Only Izzy kept herself apart from the family and, initially, from Pearl. Pearl spent many hours a day at the Richardsons’ home. Mia felt uneasy about that, and then accepted an offer from Mrs Richardson of a few hours a day of well-paid house-keeping work at her home, to her daughter’s dismay. But Izzy saw in Mia a kindred unconventional, not to say rebellious spirit. Mia does not mean mischief, but on three occasions in the novel she makes remarks that inspire others to drastic actions. On the first of these, Izzy took a remark of Mia’s as encouraging an act of vengeance at school. She became attached to Mia as she had never been to any adult, let alone to her mother (we are given the genesis of Elena’s continual fault-finding), and worked for her as an assistant in preparing photographs. She became closer and closer to Mia and to Pearl.
The book now switches to another family, the McCulloughs, friends of the Richardsons. Linda McCullough had lost seven embryos; for three years she and Mark, her husband, had had setbacks in trying to adopt a baby; but they were at last in the process of adopting a baby Asian girl who been left abandoned outside a fire station a year earlier. They called her Mirabelle, though a note had been found with her saying that her name was May Ling Chow. Mia heard the story from the Richardsons who had been invited to a party to celebrate Mirabelle’s first birthday. Mia was still doing a little work at a Chinese restaurant, where a fellow worker, Bebe, a Cantonese girl, had told her that a year earlier she had been so destitute that she had been forced to leave a new-born girl outside a fire station, and, now that she had a job, was desperate to find her again; but the authorities would give her no information. Mia loved her own daughter so intensely that she could not bear the idea of Bebe losing her child, and she told Bebe what she had heard. Bebe went to see the McCulloughs, but they called the police. Mia advised Bebe to alert the media, which publicized the story. It became a major talking point in Shaker Heights, with the public predictably taking sides, one of the issues being cross-cultural adoption. Elena and Bill side with the McCulloughs, and Bill, who was a lawyer, would represent the McCulloughs in the forthcoming court hearing; but Izzy, who had seen Bebe at Mia’s, vehemently sided with Bebe. After a while the involvement of Mia became clear to Elena. Elena was a journalist, and she determined to investigate Mia’s past. She tracked down Mia’s parents and learnt about Mia’s early years. The tension in the book slackens for several pages, mostly about her training as a photographer, until we come to the extraordinary episode which explains why Mia was so secretive about her past.
WARNING: THE REMAINDER OF THE REVIEW UNAVOIDABLY CONTAINS SOME SPOILER MATERIAL
There have been further complications: Lexie had become pregnant by her black boyfriend, Brian, and had had an abortion. At the clinic she had given her name as Pearl Warren. Elena, in pursuit of another enquiry, had seen that name on a computer screen at the abortion clinic and jumped to the conclusion that Moody had been the father. But in fact, Pearl had slept with Trip, which profoundly upset Moody who had never had sex with her but had always thought of Pearl as his special friend. When Elena confronted Moody, he bitterly said it had nothing to do with him, but that the father was likely to be Trip. The sequence of all these misunderstandings are like a farce, but they will have consequences for everyone concerned that are almost unbearable to read about. One of these is Izzy, again inspired by a metaphor Mia had used, setting fire to the family home and disappearing.
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