I finished The Other Hand, by Chris Cleave more than a week ago but what with presentations at work and reviews I didn’t feel like writing anything much, and barely even reading (shock-horror!). But I suppose that’s given me a bit of time to mull over it.
Quite a few people have commented on the book blurb for this one, and I can see why. Personally I felt that although I didn’t find it exactly misleading, I did find it a bit silly:
We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this:
It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.
The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.
And it’s what happens afterwards that is most important.
Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.
I felt that the blurb was intended to spark curiosity, which I suppose it did – but left me thinking – really?! Also, when I’d finished it I felt that it could have been summarised without giving away the key plot features (WARNING I’m about to do this in the next sentence so read at your peril!). Whoever wrote the blurb perhaps felt that people wouldn’t have wanted to read a book with this content – (a Nigerian girl’s experiences of UK immigration and how she re-enters the world of a British couple she’s met before in a crucial point of all of their lives) – and would need to be tricked into discovering how good it is.
Also telling me that I’m going to want to “tell everyone about it” and that it’s “extremely funny”, makes me instantly want to find it un-funny and not tell anyone about it (I think I might have mentioned this issue in a BTT)- but then I am quite contrary. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting and get on with what I did like about the actual book.
I liked a lot of things about The Other Hand. I fell in love with the character of Little Bee at the beginning and really could hear her ‘voice’ through Cleave’s writing. I thought the issues with immigration in the UK it addressed at the beginning were thought provoking and something that I haven’t come across in fiction so far – original and topical. I thought that the other ‘voice’ of Sarah was also very authentic. Although I didn’t like her so much I felt that she was very realistic. Human, fallible and a product of her environment just as much as Little Bee but also tough in her own way.
The Other Hand is also a very readable and enjoyable book – I wanted to find out what had happened, what was bringing the characters together and how it would affect them. The only thing I was a bit dubious about was that although I liked Little Bee’s voice, I wondered how authentic it really was. Can a white male writer truly get into the head of a young Nigerian woman and speak for her? I’d like to say yes and I can tell that it was researched, but I felt that it didn’t quite sit right with me. But casting that aside, I think perhaps this westernised perspective really helped me (as a white middle-class British female) to enjoy and relate to a novel which addresses some very serious issues.
I definitely recommend The Other Hand. While it didn’t have the same impact on me as Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip which I feel has some similar themes (book review here) I found it original and thought-provoking as well as being impressed with how well Cleave made a moving story so enjoyable to read.
I would love to hear what others thought of this novel!