Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave (4/5)

The back says: We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly specieal story and we don't want to spoilt 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've 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.

I say: I knew I was going to somehow fall in love with this when I read the first paragraph:

“Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead – but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy, like lovers who met on a holiday and forgot each other's names.”

Maybe it's because I had the same thoughts in my youth, but most likely because I knew this story was somehow going to break my heart.

Which, of course, it did.

I didn't know anything about this when I started reading, so I’m thinking that I’ll heed the synopsis and not say what happens other than it was powerful – and it made me cry.

Several times.

The American version is called Little Bee, which is what the African girl names herself on a fateful day in Nigeria, and I fell in some sort of love with her. Although there was a lot of her thoughts and actions that I didn't quite comprehend, I’m unable to judge considering what she had been through. So much of what she said shattered me completely, like this:

“In the immigration detention centre, they told us we must be disciplined to overcome our fears. This is the discipline I learned: whenever I go into a new place, I work out how I would kill myself there. In case the men come suddenly, I make sure I am ready.” - p 68
Just imagine what would make a teenager think in along those lines.

The narrative alternates between Little Bee and Sarah, the woman she met on that fateful day, and although it was ok being in Sarah's head, it got a bit much at times. I wanted to know more about how they related to each other, and was uninterested in her love affair. It all felt very contrived – like a filler – and I can't see why it was even a part of the story. Ultimately it made me like her less. She did redeem herself in the end, but by then I had lost interest in her and her selfish ways.

Although I did enjoy Little Bee's parts, and I can understand why Cleave chose to write it the way he did, it got annoying. Sarah's parts made no impression whatsoever . In the end, if this had only been told in the former's voice (or if Sarah hadn't been so disagreeable), I would have loved it so much more, but it's such a powerful story I can't give it anything less than a 4.

Aside: This was in the YA shelf in my library, but I'm not sure I'd classify it as such - at least not Sarah's parts.


  1. I love this book! I didn't know what you were talking about first, in The States it's called Little Bee and it's definitely not YA

  2. Yeah, I don't understand why they change the titles of some books. I like The Other Hand as a title better than Little Bee, though.

    And yes, I agree with this not being YA. I think my library is a tad weird - they had Lolita in the YA section as well.