I didn’t know anything about this book before starting to read it – I’m vaguely aware that there’s either a TV or film adaptation, I’ve certainly not watched that and hadn’t read any reviews as I don’t tend to do that in advance of picking up a book, simply because I prefer to form my own opinion without influence from elsewhere.
Interestingly, having finished this yesterday, today I’ve read a few reviews and it’s clearly a Marmite book. People seem to love it or to hate it. I’m in the former rather than the latter camp. I realised as I started reading that the majority of my choices so far in 2021 have been set in the UK or, if not physically in the UK, very much under British influence, even if across different ages, so it felt good to be transported somewhere else. I don’t really understand these manufactured US neighbourhoods. I guess they must be a little like Milton Keynes but the majority of my life has been spent in the suburbs of pretty big, northern-ish cities, which, as everyone here will know, are a higgledy piggledy sprawl, evolved over many centuries and so the orderly neatness of Shaker Heights feels very alien to me.
The ‘Little Fires’ referred to in the title are metaphorical as well as literal – the central characters all have their own inner embers, threatening to combust or be extinguished as we learn that no one is quite what they seem. The author does a good job of leading us through different emotions as their backstories and motivations are slowly revealed. On me this had the effect of initially dismissing some characters as unlikeable or unsympathetic, but gradually moving to compassion as she reminds us that we’re all just trying to live our lives to the best of our abilities. Sometimes we make bad decisions or do or say the wrong thing, but that doesn’t inherently make us bad, it just makes us human.
So all in all, I enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere. I wouldn’t want to live somewhere like Shaker Heights, but spending a week there has been, for the most part, fun.
The Sapphire Widow by Dinah Jefferies
Dates Read: 05/04/2021-12/04/2021
My Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Well, I was super disappointed with this one, and in the end read it as quickly as possible just to finish it so I could read something else. I think maybe my judgement is a little biased due to the colonial setting which feels extremely dated and has never been a genre I’ve particularly enjoyed. About 200 pages in, I even checked the publication date and was astonished this book was first published in 2018!
However, it wasn’t just the setting which disappointed me in the Sapphire Widow. The characters don’t seem to fully inhabit their space – by which I mean that I simply didn’t feel enough understanding of them to be able to empathise and so to care what happens to them. Even the saintly Louisa – in many ways a modern, independent woman but also massively defined by the men in her life and seemingly lacking any sort of insight or intuition into human nature. There are a lot of characters in here, and for me, it would have been better to reduce the cast and really concentrate on developing the motivations and experiences of the key players.
There’s a weird sub plot involving some dastardly scoundrels around the periphery of Louisa’s dead husband’s, let’s face it, less than savoury history, but the details are never fleshed out, we still don’t know what is and what isn’t true and in the end it’s expediently resolved without really adding anything to the narrative.
The reason this gets two rather than one star from me is in the skill of the author’s prose which is engaging and well written, so the descriptive passages, sights, sounds and smells do transport you to Sri Lanka in a bygone era. It’s a shame this skill doesn’t, for me, extend to her characters and storyline, as I think this would have fleshed out and improved the experience for me no end.
I like to read books that I maybe wouldn’t choose ordinarily, which is how I came upon this one. It’s a sound strategy which has definitely expanded my tastes but it’s always going to be a mixed bag. Some you win, some you lose! However, the Sapphire Widow clearly caught the imagination of lots of other readers who have thoroughly enjoyed this work so don’t let my ramblings put you off.
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
Dates Read: 02/04/2021-05/04/2021
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think this got 4 stars from me because I probably read it at the right time, over a few days over the Easter weekend when we were locked down so, to be honest, I really didn’t have a lot else to do and I probably had fewer other things distracting me.
It isn’t quite the ‘edge of your seat’ and ‘gripping’ read I’d expected from the synopses and reviews, but it’s an engaging story to keep you out of trouble for a couple of days. You’ll have worked out the major plot twist ahead of the big reveal. There’s also a few sub-plot twists, the biggest of which felt utterly unbelievable and I was left wondering what on earth I’d just read!
Our heroine has some glaring character flaws which anyone more self-aware would be cognizant of at a much younger age which kind of irritated me, but if you take it all at face value there are worse ways to spend a few hours.