Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I totally understand why Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was a favourite of reviewers in 2017.

It would be a terrific choice for holiday reading – it’s pacey and easy to read.

I imagine when Ng was writing she had a complex plotting diagram on a whiteboard, or lots of sticky notes on her wall – clearly every word has been thought through.

But while I zipped through the story of itinerant photographer Mia and her daughter Pearl, whose arrival in the staid community of Shaker Heights, stirs up all sorts of trouble, I wasn’t left breathless (like Jodi Picoult, according to her front-cover testimonial).

The problem I have with these types of intricately plotted stories – where the suspense is strung-out; where each chapter finishes on a cliff-hanger; and where everything ties together neatly in the end, thanks to a couple of handy coincidences – is that plausibility is stretched every which way. And in the process of stretching, I start to lose interest, usually because it’s all action and no emotion.

Without spoilers, Ng uses two separate plots lines to explore themes of mothering. There’s some potential in the additional themes – about the road not taken, about selfless or selfish choices, about pride – but again, these more interesting elements are diluted by the rapid unfolding of events that propel the story to it’s dramatic end.

“I think you can’t imagine. Why anyone would chose a different life from the one you’ve got. Why anyone might want something other than a big house with a big lawn, a fancy car, a job in an office. Why anyone would choose anything different that what you’d choose… It terrifies you. That you missed out on something. That you gave up something you didn’t know you wanted… What was it? Was it a boy? Was it a vocation? Or was it a whole life?”

The writing is fine, the story is entertaining, but I didn’t finish the book feeling enriched.

2/5 A bit disappointed TBH.

Not many mentions of food in this book, although omelette stations make two appearances. If I ever find myself standing at an omelette station, I always ask for spinach and cheese.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (August 1): Belfast 13°-20° and Melbourne 7°-14°.

9 responses

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  2. I nearly bought this at the weekend but I’m trying to be more restrained and I’ve still not read Everything I Never Told You so I passed by – I’m glad I did now. When I saw your post come up, my first thought was ‘if Kate loves it, I wonder if I can get to the shop today to see if they still have it?’ Thank you for helping my minuscule willpower 😀

    • Glad to be of service.

      I have Everything I Never Told You as well – I will read it eventually but with lower expectations (I’ll save it for a beach read). Ultimately, I prefer character-driven stories to plot-driven, and this was completely plot-driven.

  3. What I liked about Little Fires is that it demonstrates that there are no easy answers, that issues are most often not black or white. I saw this particularly in the question of the adoption, which presented the extenuating circumstances of both women.

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  5. I knew very little about Little Fires Everywhere before I read it and so I was impressed by the issues it tackled. I thought the various explorations of mother-daughter relationships were well done and interesting to read and since I thought it was going to be a simple fluff read, it had a lot more depth than I expected. I also have a daughter named Pearl so I think that added some gut punch to the ending for me!

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