Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

The Richardsons’ house is burning down. It wasn’t an accident.

Wealthy (four cars in the drive), comfortable (doyenne of Shaker Heights) and happy (three and a half high-achieving children), Elena Richardson knows life is good. She’s generous and charitable and good with people. So why would her youngest daughter set their house on fire?

Celeste Ng takes on a ‘perfect’ society and peers around the façade. Shaker Heights, a small town outside Cleveland, Ohio, is a model community, where everyone toes the line. There are rules here and everyone obeys.

When Mia Warren and daughter Pearl blow into town to rent an apartment, Elena sees a chance to do some good. An itinerant artist with a young daughter – similar age to hers – why not help the woman out. After all, she likes to patronise the arts.

The families’ lives become increasingly intertwined to the extent they almost swap daughters, but there are other familial questions threatening to bust through the neat backyards. Whose child is the abandoned baby? The parents who adopted her and lavished her with love or the biological mother who wants her back? Whose is the child made with surrogate sperm? Who gets to choose whether or not to terminate a teenage pregnancy?

Ng weaves this omniscient perspective with huge skill, making the reader change sides almost every chapter. Her depiction of character is economical, wrong-footing assumptions and avoiding cliché. Finally, the fuses that lead to the fire are far more complex than the fire service or even Elena can understand.

Wholly absorbing and thoughtful, this book kept me thinking.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked:
Jodi Picoult, Helen Fitzgerald, Maeve Binchy

Avoid if you don’t like: Awkward questions, teenage girls, multiple POV

Ideal accompaniments: Satay sticks, banana milkshake and Jerry Springer in the background

Genre: Literary fiction

Available on Amazon



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