Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Audiobook narrated by Jennifer Lim.
This was my audiobook for the month and, as I’d only heard good things about it, I was looking forward to listening. Sadly, it just didn’t live up to the hype for me. As I write this, I’m finding it hard to see why it was touted as such a great book? Yes, it’s confidently written, making it easy to listen to, but… well, let’s break it down.
Billed as a celebration of motherhood, it does indeed cover this topic widely – from a woman with the perfect family (husband / 4 children – 2 girls, 2 boys) and an exploration of the mother / daughter relationship to adoption, abortion, surrogacy, infertility and even baby stealing (!!), the overarching theme is, ‘It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone? Or was it love?’ I have no issue with this, I am a mother, so this is all very interesting. In theory.
Little Fires Everywhere centres around the aforementioned perfect family. The Richardsons – Elena, Bill and their 4 teenage children: Trip, Lexie, Moody and Izzy. They live in Shaker Heights, an idyllic suburb of Cleveland and are respected members of the community. Apart from Izzy, she is the black sheep – we know because she wears Doc Martins – that’s the extent of her rebelliousness, she is barely in the book to develop her character further and yet is responsible for an inexplicable act of violence towards her own family. This was the first thing that bothered me.
To contrast the Richardsons, we have Mia and Pearl Warren. Mia is a single mother who moves her teenage daughter around the country when the mood strikes her. You see, she is an artist, a photographer, a free spirit. (On that note, I found the references to Mia’s photography truly cringy, the descriptions of her final portraits of the Richardson family actually made me want to fast-forward, they were that pretentious.) It also grated on me that Mia is presented as a character who can do no wrong and is a brilliant mum, but she does something pretty despicable in regards to her daughter and is never held to account for that, seemingly because she is a quirky free spirit, so therefore must be a nice person.
The book primarily explores the merging of these two very different families, but I found some dull relationships got too much focus – Pearl and Moody – yet more interesting ones – Pearl and Trip – don’t get explored. This was due to a lot of spinning plates – plot-wise – Little Fires Everywhere just tried to cover too much, so no plot thread quite went deep enough to be satisfactory and I was left with questions as some threads didn’t feel finished. Along with this, the characters were underdeveloped, it was generally too long and my mind wandered one too many times while listening, always a sign a book doesn’t have my complete attention. Actress Reese Witherspoon is going to produce and star in a TV mini series of Little Fires Everywhere, maybe it will come to life in that setting, when it can take more time to explore the characters. Not sure I’ll be watching though…