I read Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You and bloody loved it. It was one of my top books of 2016 and I was really excited to read her follow-up novel. Obviously, it’s taken me ages to actually get around to reading it. I don’t know why I didn’t get to it. I know people who have loved it and I’m pretty sure I’ve only read positive things. I was also really keen to see the TV adaptation but didn’t want to watch it until I’d read the book. When it became apparent that picking up the book was going to be tricky, I decided to get the audiobook. Of course, I didn’t listen to that for ages either. I was looking for something I could listen to at work and it seemed like a good length. Time to see what I’ve been missing out on.
Little Fires Everywhere takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio where Celeste Ng grew up. The book focuses on two families in the community during the late 90s. Both families contain a strong-willed matriarch but they lead very different lives. Elena Richardson was born and raised in Shaker Heights. She lives there now as a journalist and the mother of 4 children. She lives a comfortable life with her lawyer husband. Quite the opposite of Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl who are renting a flat from the Richardsons. Mia is an artist who is constantly moving from place to place to find inspiration. The two women are very different and quickly find themselves on opposite sides of town drama. Something that convinces Elena to do some digging on her tenant.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book but it was a great character-driven narrative. There is an excellent cast of characters to meet and they’re all well-written. Not a single one of them is without flaws and all of them seem grounded in reality. This book doesn’t have an abundance of people you completely love but you’ll go through periods with each of them. Everyone has a redeeming feature even if it does take a lot of work to find it. One of the strongest themes of the book is being able to accept that your fate is in your own hands. If something happens that you’re not happy about, what are you going to do about it? Don’t just sit around waiting for someone else to solve your problem. Go out and solve it yourself.
Little Fires Everywhere is an exploration of family and community. It focuses on motherhood and the bond between a woman and her children. Elena and Mia both want the best for their children but have wildly different approaches. They are both slightly oppressive but ultimately caring mothers. Celeste Ng is dealing with themes we’ve seen before but there’s enough here to keep them fresh. It’s essentially family melodrama but it brings in so many different elements. We see two women with different levels of privilege butting heads. Their different upbringings cause their world view to be completely different.
Celeste Ng is a wonderful and straightforward writer. Her prose is compelling both for its beauty and its simplicity. There is no wasted time here. Everything we learn adds something to the narrative and offers something new for the reader. Early on, I was worried that there would be too much of a focus on 90s nostalgia but it does ease off a little. I appreciated the little historical touches but was also glad that it didn’t become too preoccupied with pop culture references. As well as the historical setting, Ng also manages to keep all of these characters under control. Each of the stories ends up coming together to form a very pleasing tapestry. It’s not as if this is a story that doesn’t have a focus on plot but it’s certainly not a fast-paced drama. Yet, it is a powerful and memorable read.
3 thoughts on “Book Review – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng”
Don’t just sit around waiting for someone else to solve your problem. Go out and solve it yourself.
Now there is a statement I wish more people would act on. That is a mindset and philosophy I can fully endorse and get behind 🙂
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Too true. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self the exact same thing! She wasn’t very proactive.
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