Review of "The Other Hand - Chris Cleave"

published 13/07/2012 | JEFFJEN
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Pro The character and voice of Little Bee.
Cons The other characters
very helpful
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"On the other hand..."

I will begin by saying that 'The Other Hand' is most probably a book I would never have bought or chosen to read myself, due to the lack of information on the cover as to what the story is actually about. Indeed all you are given are a few small lines informing the would-be reader that this is a truly special story of two women whose lives collide one fateful day and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Then two years later they meet again and basically that is it, other than the fact the blurb boasts that once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. And you are asked not to tell them what happens either because the magic is in how the book unfolds.
Those few lines, coupled with recommendations from the media describing the book as "A feat of literary engineering," " A powerful piece of art," and "Searingly eloquent" to list but a few, is all you have to go on. Oh and if you are not convinced by now that this book is going to be one of the most wonderful things you have ever read, there is also a letter from the editor just inside the cover telling you how amazing it is.

It was my daughter who gave me this book to read. She had seen it recommended but had not got round to reading it herself since buying it. It sat on the bookshelf for quite a while before I actually picked it up and decided to read it and I think the reason for this was that there wasn't enough on the cover to make me want to read it right away. I always seemed to have something which sounded more appealing to read.
Although it had taken me a while to get round to reading this book, I was a little intrigued by it as I think anyone would be after reading the cover, but somehow it is isn't quite enough to make you want to read it right away in my opinion.

The story begins in a UK detention centre and features Nigerian refugee 'Little Bee' who begins by saying that most days she wishes she was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Right away I found the writing style endearing and as I read further, I found I was drawn in quite quickly to the world of Little Bee as she is released from the centre. All she has is a driving licence belonging to an Englishman named Andrew whom she met on the beach in Nigeria and she decides to make her way to his home, which he shares with his wife Sarah who was also with him on the beach that day. Unfortunately Andrew has since passed away and Sarah is left alone to raise their young son Charlie.

Despite starting well, I found my interest waning a little when the story changed from Little Bee's point of view to that of Sarah who was a difficult character to like in my opinion. Sarah was having an affair with a man who was also married and this carries on after her husband Andrew's death. Sarah came across as quite selfish I found and her attitude to both her husband and the man she was having an affair with, confused me. It seemed at times that she was swearing undying love to one or the other but then at other times it seemed she didn't actually love either of them.
It had been Sarah's idea to go to Nigeria for a holiday with her husband. Yes, the holiday had been a freebie given to her as editor of a magazine, but why she chose to take it baffled me. The holiday changes their lives forever, although it was very difficult to have sympathy for Sarah even though she makes a brave and terrifying decision whilst on that holiday in Nigeria.
I also found the character of Charlie, Sarah's spolit four year old son, quite irritating also. At first I was amused by his insistance on wearing a Batman costume all the time, but this eventually became annoying, as I felt he featured in the story too much. There is a graveside scene which starts off quite harrowing but then became quite ridiculous in my opinion, which I am sure wasn't the author's intention, but it was this sort of thing which spoiled the story for me in places.

The real pleasure in reading this book was the voice of Little Bee. The writing here is excellent and praise must be given to the author for creating a character which was a joy to read about. Her views and thoughts on the world and the comparisons between England and Nigeria were wonderfully described and her voice totally believable. Right from the start, with her wishing she was a British pound coin, Little Bee has a presence which captivates the reader throughout, which ensures you will want to continue reading. For example, when she explains that she had never tasted tea even though it was grown in her country, until she stowed away on a ship to the UK and was exported with it, there is just something enchanting about the way the author has found her voice and this surely must be the magical element of the book. I particularly enjoyed how she addresses the reader directly.
Flashbacks and interwoven narrative strands gradually allow us to piece together the events which took place on the beach in Nigeria and Little Bee's story and even though I felt things weren't revealed as quickly as I would like, I never tired of reading about Little Bee.

I found I was longing for a happy ending for Little Bee and whilst I am not going to give anything away, this book certainly makes you think and at times is quite shocking. I found it realistic in parts but the characters of Sarah and her son Charlie were a bit of a let down.
Overall, 'The Other Hand' is worth a read, but ultimately I think it is over-hyped on the cover and the editor's letter etc. I am glad I read it but the voice of Little Bee is what makes this book interesting and the rest of it falls short in my opinion.

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Comments on this review

  • supersonic75 published 17/07/2012
    Excellent review x
  • torr published 16/07/2012
    Well reviewed. It's over-hyped, certainly, especially all the mystification on the cover. I did think it had its moments, but the ending is a total cop-out.
  • Jake_Speed published 15/07/2012
    You get through a lot of books!
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