*I was gifted this book in return for my honest review*
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NG is the latest Mumsnet Book Club choice and what a stunning read it is. This novel is a masterclass in construction, and it gripped me from the first sentence. My life was put on hold until I had finished the very last word. I gorged on this novel and greedily devoured every single page. I went to bed as soon as the children went to bed just so I could relish reading it in peace. I snatched any spare moments during my day so that I could read this beautiful book. I couldn’t rest until I had finished it, until I had learnt the fate of all the characters. Now that I have finished I want to start it all over again.
Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere is a story that stirred every emotion in my body and it also forced me to confront some very uncomfortable truths. The novel is set in the seemingly perfect American neighbourhood, this carefully constructed – some would argue fake – town of Shaker Heights. The story begins with the alarming scene of a family house burning down. This in itself is a shocking event. Things like this just don’t happen in Shaker Heights. Even more disturbing is the Richardson family’s reaction. The three siblings stood outside seem to lay the blame with the younger and, presumed missing, sibling – Izzy.
The book then flips back to the beginning and the story unfurls and gently meanders and circles back to the night the house is burning. Over the pages we learn of all the events that led to this night. However, that is not what is important here and is not what grips our attention. This is not just a book about arson, there is so much more going on. This is a book about love, community, identity and family.
The Perfect Family?
On the one side we have the Richardson family. A seemingly traditional family that have it all. Both parents work and they have 4 successful children. However, the youngest child, Izzy, is often a great cause for concern for the family, and the only obvious fly in the ointment in their otherwise seemingly idyllic life.
On the other side we have the Richardson’s tenants, Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl. Their lives become entangled as the children start hanging out. Mia and Pearl have lived a rather bohemian existence and couldn’t be more different from the Richardson family. They have little in belongings and live a frugal life so that Mia can focus on her passion, creating art. Mrs Richardson is intrigued by Mia, and struggles to fathom how she can live the way she does. However, on seeing Mia’s photography work she realises that she is a very talented artist. Like Mia’s photography, the story gradually reveals itself and surprises you.
So much happens in this novel: there is an abortion, a baby abandoned, an infertile couple, and adoption. There are some massive themes in the book, yet they aren’t jostling for space, they all interweave like a spider’s web, trapping you in the story. Celeste has created a novel that is a work of art. You follow the story and the different threads with ease. You find yourself torn and undecided about characters. You have your heart broken and then the next page your heart is healed and it’s brimming with hope again.
Trying To Parent
For me, there was one character who sat a little too uncomfortably close to home and that’s the character of Mrs Richardson. Through Mia we learn that she often seems harder on Izzy, the youngest child who seems to be a bit of a troublemaker. Mrs Richardson’s expectations of Izzy seem higher than the expectations she has for the rest of her children. It’s almost like she keeps her at arm’s length, and I could see myself in Mrs Richardson when I thought back to Oldest’s first year. Then it was revealed that she had a very difficult pregnancy and birth with Izzy; these lines broke my heart and I found myself sobbing as I could only too well understand what she meant –
“Everything that had infuriated her about Izzy, even before she’d taken her first breath, had been rooted in that one fear, that she might lose her. And now she had. A thin wail rose from her throat, sharp as the blade of a knife”
Fearful Of Loss
That sentence took me back to the birth of Oldest, being told she was going to be born “abnormal”, being rushed to theatre and then learning that she was absolutely fine. What followed the relief was the feeling of overwhelming fear and for at least the first year of her life I held my breath; I was sure that we couldn’t be lucky, that we couldn’t have escaped. I was convinced that there was something wrong. I felt something bad was going to happen, that we were going to lose her. This, combined with the fact Oldest didn’t want to feed or sleep, made for a soul-destroying year. Now, looking back, I realise I was clearly traumatised after the birth and was sleep-walking through the fog of exhaustion. I am ashamed to admit that perhaps a little part of me can understand how Mrs Richardson felt, because I too have felt that fear and I too have forced myself to lock it away.
None Of Us Are Perfect
Like Mrs Richardson and her youngest daughter Izzy, Oldest and I will sometimes clash but, as Mr C points out, that’s because we are actually very alike and are both very stubborn. I guess this is one of the points of the novel, there is no such thing as the perfect family, we are all trying to wade our way through life and we are all trying to do the best for our family, even when it doesn’t always seem that way.
Desperate For Answers
The ending of this book has still left so many questions and I desperately want there to be a sequel. I want to know what happens to all of the characters in this book. This is probably the first time I have read a book and had sympathies for every single character. I emotionally invested in every one, I rooted for every single character. I desperately need a sequel because I need to know that every person got their happy ending. I want them to be happy.
They say you should never have a favourite, but this might be my new favourite novel of 2018. Ssh, don’t tell anyone though 😉
Litte Fires Everywhere is available to buy from Amazon
Disclaimer – please be aware that I was gifted this novel as I am working with the Mumsnet Book Club. However, all words, opinions and images are my own.