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review 2018-06-23 18:33
"Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

 

I knew, on finishing "Little Fires Everywhere" that I had enjoyed the book and that it was a first-rate piece of writing, excellently narrated. Yet I wasn't clear enough about what I thought of the book to write a review. So, I've let a few weeks pass, let the ideas and the images settle and gotten a little space from the characters and now I'm starting to see some shapes.

 

I think my inability to see the whole book at once is a consequence of how the book is designed. The authorial voice is used throughout, guiding us through the thoughts and emotions of the characters as they react to the little fires of passion, most of them to related to motherhood, that challenge and or define them. Yet, although I hear the author's voice all the time, by the end of the novel, the author had not given me any unequivocal answers as to whose side she is on. I think this is one of the key strengths of the book. It refuses to be didactic or polarising. It puts forward the views of both sides and asks you to think, to access your emotions. Perhaps to start a little fire of your own.mo

 

The book brings together two families, Mia and her daughter, who live a nomadic life, with Mia working on her art as a photographer while raising her daughter, and the Richardsons, mother, father and four children, raised in the idyllic, safe, solidly upper-middle-class Shaker Heights. Mia rents an apartment from Mrs Richardson. Their children, all in their teens, start to spend time together, Mia starts to work part-time cooking and cleaning for the Richardsons so that she can observe the family her, previously independent and possibly lonely, daughter has fallen under the spell of.

 

This "compare and contrast lifestyles" set-up is used to examine choices on motherhood, different types of mother-daughter relationships, the rights and wrongs of adoption (especially of a Chinese baby by a childless white couple) of abortion, and of surrogacy. It looks at whether families are born or made or both. It contrasts choosing to follow rules with choosing to follow your passion and asks if either choice makes sense.

 

It does all this without turning into an ethics essay. It stays focused on the people, the choices that have made them who they are and the potential that they have for changing and or for becoming even more deeply that people that they have already become.

 

The issues the characters deal with are controversial, have a high potential for conflict and speak deeply to core beliefs. So how do I get to the end of a novel told in the authorial voice and not know what the author's answer is?

 

Well, I needed to step back. I think Celeste Ng didn't set out to take sides on the issues. She wants us to understand that there are no simple answers. If there were, these little passion-fed fires wouldn't break out everywhere. 

 

The message I took from the book was that little fires are both inevitable and necessary. If we're lucky, they give us the passage to find an answer that is right for us. Yet the fires are dangerous, They can get out of control. So we are all faced with a choice on what to do with the fires? Do we damp them down, avoiding risk by starving them of oxygen? Do we spread the flame to others? Do we limit the damage? our passions, cutting off their oxygen to avoid risks?

 

Good questions. In "Little Fires Everywhere" Celeste Ng shows us all of those choices but leaves us to decide which to take for ourselves. Along the way, she builds up some memorable characters that start to feel like family.

 

To give you a flavour of the prose and the use of metaphor, I've quoted a section from the middle of the book, where the author shares Mrs Richardson's thoughts on passion and rules. 

"All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks lept like flees and spread as rapidly. A breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic Torch. Or perhaps to tend it carefully like like an Eternal Flame A reminder of light and goodness that would never, could never, set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled, Domesticated. Happy in captivity.  The key she thought was to avoid conflagration."

 

"Rules existed for a reason. If you followed them, you would succeed. If you didn't, you might burn the world to the ground."

If this appeals to you, I recommend the audiobook version. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of Jennifer Lim's narration.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/349277108" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

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review 2018-04-18 20:02
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

I loved Celeste Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, a novel about a young girl who committed suicide, so when this came out months ago I fully intended to start it as soon as I could. The thing is, Ng writes multiple POV and I’m not all that keen on that style as it can be jarring. What I found this time, however, was that Ng has perfected it.

 

Little Fires Everywhere centres around the Richardson’s, a family of six and the Warren's, who rent an apartment from them. Mia Warren is everything that Mrs Richardson is not, a free spirit who doesn’t obey the rules and is happy to live a meagre life, instead dedicating herself to her art. Mia doesn’t care about material goods and having a conventional life with the big home and big car, but Mrs Richardson does. She can’t understand someone like Mia and this leads to some tension. One of Mrs Richardson’s children, Izzy, is a free spirit, like Mia and admires her, spending much time with her. Mia’s own daughter, Pearl, craves the stability of a life like the Richardson’s and spends much of her time with them. However, Pearl doesn’t actively resent her mother, like Izzy, so her motivation for spending time at the Richardson’s is more innocent.

 

The main story takes hold when a friend of the Richardson’s try to adopt a Chinese-American baby. The mother of this baby is a friend of Mia’s and when a court-case ensues as the birth mother of the baby wants to regain custody, tensions skyrocket.

 

The novel was brimming with themes and ideas, such as whether of not it’s right to adopt a child of different ethnicity and potentially rob it of it’s heritage. This and every other idea tied in with the major theme of identity and what you lose when you choose a different path than that which is right for you.

 

Celeste Ng really shines when it comes to character building. She doesn’t neglect any character, however small. There were numerous sub-plots, meaning that each character got their chance to shine and become their own.

 

There was a lot going on here, but it never felt like too much. I do, however, think it may have benefited from a little less going on, if only to strengthen the other themes. Regardless, I can’t wait for her next book.

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text 2018-03-19 17:18
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

I had to switch to the audiobook to finish this as looking at text is giving me a headache. That's the reason I haven't been on here much. It's basically acute tiredness, nothing major. I just need to rest up for a few days and then I'll be much more active around here. Missing it and, of course, you lot. Back to the book...I really enjoyed some elements of that ending. Full review when I can look at text for a sustained period, without getting a headache!

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text 2018-03-16 20:38
Reading progress update: I've read 74%.
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

I was so excited to get to this and while I'm enjoying it, It's not quite as great as I was expecting. It is keeping me entertained, though. The characterisation is fantastic, but the plot is a bit meh.

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