By Chris Cleave
Half-way through this reading book, I was trying to recommend it to a friend of mine, but I couldn’t recall the author’s name.
I’m so rarely staring at the cover when I’m reading a book.
So I dug my book out of my bag to give my friend what I was sure would be a woman’s name, and was completely blown away when I realized this book was by a man. The two female narrators are so well written, so well thought out, so sympathetic to my womanly soul I thought “No. Surely not. No man wrote these women.” He’s even straight.
We have one narrator, a refugee from Nigeria, who spent years in an immigration prison, and is released into the UK countryside with no money, no friends, and little to recommend her besides a firm grasp of English. Her fear is pervasive and all encompassing. Everywhere she goes, she makes mental notes of how she can kill herself “when the men come” because a quick death is easier than what they would certainly do to her. But her fear is not panicked or irrational. She knows true horror, and they are old acquaintances.
My ability to relate to such a character is limited. I’m a well-off little American white girl whose experience with fear consists of walking alone through Brooklyn.
However, the other narrator is a suburban career-woman with a small child and a failing marriage that recently came to a violent end when her husband killed himself. While thankfully not mine, her life and situation is much easier to imagine. Her insights into love, marriage, bravery, children, friendship, and life-after-tragedy are poignant and not overbearing.
The most dramatic scene is a flashback to when these two women met for the first time on a beach in Nigeria. You’ll just have to read it, but it really makes you wonder if you would cut off just one of your own fingers to save the ENTIRE life of an innocent stranger - and what it means about you if you wouldn’t.
If you’re a woman, read it. If you’re a man, read it, but I think some of the nuance will be lost on you. 9/10.
This has been a retroactive installment of Ansley Spoils Books. This novel read by me in June 2011.