DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Aug 19 2011

Sharereads: Little Bee

by Joseph M

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

Today I’ll be talking about Little Bee by Chris Cleave, which I read earlier this summer. There are a number of things about this novel which are worthy of discussion, but before I go any further, I should mention the blurb on the inside flap of the cover of the book. I’ll give you the first two sentences: “We don’t want to tell you much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.” This is not the first book to play it coy with the plot summary; the synopsis for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is similarly vague. In keeping with the wishes of the author, I’m not going to tell you much about the plot of the story in this blog post; I don’t want to spoil anything either! I will, however, be talking about aspects of the story and the way it is written.

The book unfolds through alternating point-of-view narratives of the two main characters, women from very different backgrounds whose lives intersect in a very dramatic and unexpected way. The split narrative style artfully demonstrates the similarities and differences between the two main characters and allows the reader to explore the story in an intriguingly non-linear fashion. Books written in a similar style include The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Can you think of others?

Another thing I found interesting was the dialect present in parts of the story. This technique uses unorthodox spelling and word choices to convey the sense of a particular accent or dialect. I like accents; I find them to be fascinating verbal insights into how people in different areas create their shared realities, and allowing for the representation of accent and dialect in writing can add authenticity and bolster characterization. A few examples of other books which utilize this technique include A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok, and Bloodroot by Amy Greene, as well as a variety of works by Mark Twain, Irvine Welsh and Terry Pratchett. Some people find it difficult to read books with a lot of this type of writing, but in Little Bee the technique helps illustrate the contrasts between the characters in an effective yet unobtrusive manner. How do you feel about books written in this style? Any that you love, or hate?

One more thing to consider: Little Bee is actually not the original title of this story. It was first published in the UK as The Other Hand. After reading the book, I think I prefer the name of the American release, but I also can’t help but wonder about the process that led to the title being changed in the first place. Can you think of any other books (or movies, music, etc.) which have undergone a name change based on geography?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ken M. August 19, 2011 at 12:44 PM

Your post reminded me of Lori Lansen’s novel, The Girls. It’s narrated by two young women who tell the story of their lives from different perspectives, and they are conjoined twins.

Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton is another great read (very different plot), and was originally published in Austrailia as The Shifting Fog.

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