Top critical review
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an easy read, but not a very good one
on 15 March 2011
This book certainly seems to divide opinions! It is a very easy read. It starts well, with Little Bee's escape from the detention centre, and its subject matter - the plight of detained immigrants and the Nigerian background - is fine. However, as it develops, it weakens. The English characters are stereotypical - an anguished 'Times' journalist, the self-made wife who runs a fashion magazine, the self-deprecating Home Office middleman Lawrence. There is also Little Bee, the asylum seeker, who is certainly not stereotypical and is, indeed, the most interesting part of the book, but there is something false about her too. It just isn't very well written (immediately after I had read it I began 'Wolf Hall, the Booker prizewinning novel and wow! what a difference) and as a result it does not convince. There are purple passages of description, dialogue which doesn't quite ring true and internal monologue which is just too matter-of-fact to fit the desperate situation the characters find themselves in. The crucial child character Batman/Charlie doesn't work, for me, even if, as the author seems to say in the afterword, he is based on the author's son. Oddly, I think the book does just about work as an allegory - Charlie representing a naive worldview of goodies and baddies, Sarah a concerned but very middle-class-English-privileged perception and Little Bee the inevitable victim, saintly and doomed. But it clearly is not meant to be such ; everything about it, down to the quotation of the various official documents relating to detention of foreign nationals in the afterword, suggests that we are to believe in it literally. And that, too often, I could not do.