Lola Margaret Delaware was lost. She clutched her stuffed grey bunny and chewed the top of its ear, which was threadbare and stained from the habit, and lifted her gaze to the top of the building she stood before. Stone monkeys with scrunched-up faces jutted from the corners and eyed Lola with disdain. But that didn’t put her off. She was sure her mother was inside.
Pulling bunny tighter she pushed the heavy door and stepped into a glistening white foyer. A man in a black suit and a pale face smiled from behind a counter. ‘Lola, I’m so glad you finally found us.’
The day the brollies appeared in the sky I didn’t think anything of it, except how beautiful they looked. Midnight blue, lime green, cherry red, lit up from the inside by fairy lights. I didn’t question the miracle before me, and instead stood in open-mouthed awe, watching them float by.
When the spell was finally broken, I looked around my new world in horror. There was no sky, just the underside of a space ship. Cased in a sticky cocoon I observed grey alien bodies walking in and out of the shops and bars like they owned the place.
Shrieks pierce my chest. I move quickly and lift you from your crib. We settle in the nursing chair.
The aching weight of you sags my arms. Silence cloaks the witching hour. We’re a raft lost at sea, a flame floating on an ocean of black. You latch on while I sing a lullaby so low it’s barely a whisper. Your head has an earthy heaviness.
Your hot milky smell, as delicate as a moth’s wing, envelopes us. Protects us. My eyes droop, my bones ache, but I hold on, still as the moon, wanting to keep this moment forever.
No one has ever seen the lady who lives in Porta Mare step outside the gates. She isn’t even old, early thirties if that. If you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse of her pruning the roses in a silk skirt and wide-brimmed black hat, or else standing on the third-floor balcony watching the waves. Her skin pale and watery, like skimmed milk.
People say she’s made a deal with the devil. But what kind of deal leaves you trapped in a house with no other soul for company? And such a beautiful house too. It’s wasted on her.
On a trip to the South of France, the shy heroine of Rebecca falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower. Although his proposal comes as a surprise, she happily agrees to marry him. But as they arrive at her husband’s home, Manderley, a change comes over Maxim, and the young bride is filled with dread. Friendless in the isolated mansion, she realises that she barely knows him. In every corner of every room is the phantom of his beautiful first wife, Rebecca, and the new Mrs de Winter walks in her shadow.
On one hand I am ashamed to say that I have waited until my 40th year to read this book, but on the other I am delighted that I did. I’m not sure I would have fully appreciated its brilliance beforehand.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again …
I’ll start with the characters. The heroine (we never discover her name) is obsessed at the beginning of the book about being young and inexperienced. It’s mentioned so often that I found myself shouting – We get it! You’re young! But this is necessary as it draws us into her mindset of how every single thing she does is wrong and scrutinised. Also, she is comparing herself to Maxim who is about twenty years her senior. When she reaches Manderley her inexperience shines. It doesn’t even cross her mind that she can tell the servants what to do and is constantly being clumsy and making mistakes. She allows herself to be bullied by Mrs Danvers.
Ah, Mrs Danvers! What a character. Her ‘skull face’ will stay with me forever, the treacherous old bat. We love to hate her and she nearly manages to dispose of the heroine for good. There are a lot of frustrating moments when again I’d be shouting – Just tell Maxim! But what would be the fun in that. Rebecca slowly reveals herself throughout the novel, each piece of information crushing our heroine until the nail-biting climax. These characters will forever be living, breathing, people in my mind.
Du Maurier’s writing style is flowery prose and there are lots of descriptions of nature, the flowers, the Happy Valley, the cove. However, these sometimes in-depth descriptions, are important to the atmosphere of Manderley as a place, and gives it a heart beat of its own.
Rebecca smashed its way into my ‘favourite books of all time’ very short list. I have no doubt I will read this book over and over, but for now I’m nursing a terrible book hangover.
Mary-Jane placed her small bag of belongings in the little rowing boat that rocked on the lapping water at the edge of the jetty. She had brought her favourite things; her fluffball-topped pen, her unicorn notepad, and the jewellery box with the dancing ballerina.
She only had to make it to the island. One and a half miles of water, and the monsters would never catch her again.
She picked up the oar and paddled, firm and smooth, keeping her body low. A black shadow formed below her. A white light beckoned from the island.
Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost…
Little Fires Everywhere is a complex interaction of characters, revealing their intentions and secrets as the slow plot moves forward.
I will admit I was a little confused at the start with the introduction of the Richardson family – there are so many of them in the first scene that I found it hard to picture them immediately. However, they develop into individuals as you read on, the four children reminding me of the Breakfast Club – the jock, the popular girl, the geek and the outcast. But they do gain depth as Ng allows us to watch them face challenges and develop. All except Trip, the jock, his input is minimal.
The story of Mia, and her daughter Pearl, arriving in the restrictive suburbs of Shaker Heights really shakes things up (pun intended). Mia offers an alternative lifestyle to the one enforced at the Heights. She travels around, dragging her daughter from two to town and has very little material possessions. Despite Mia’s secrets, which are revealed later on, she is offered as the moral force of the book. She is the one who gives advice and guidance to those in need (Izzy) and helps in a time of crisis (Lexie). With the backdrop of a court case over whether a Chinese child should be returned to her mother or kept with the affluent family who’ve been raising hr for months, it’s clear who’s side Mia is on. Bebe, the mother, is Mia’s friend, and an an event from Mia’s past helps us understand her allegiances.
All the main characters have depth and complexities, except perhaps for Mrs Richardson who’s development as a character I imagine will happen after this book based on the lessons she’s learned.
I haven’t read a book with an omniscient narrator for quite some time and I found the style refreshing, being able to go into each of the characters lives. There is no doubt that Ng is an amazing writer and her words and imagery are executed beautifully. I can see how this may be a little slow-paced for some readers, and I did actually read two books in the middle of this, but got straight back into it. Definitely worth a read.
It was supposed to be a joke. But the wailing sirens and flashing blue lights told a different story as the ambulance and police car crammed into the tiny cul-de-sac.
Young Teddy Hamilton stood over the lifeless body of Mrs Fenwick, unsure whether to run or try pummelling her chest again.
As the policeman approached, Teddy stepped outside his body and surveyed the scene. The woman lying dead, his fake blood-soaked hospital scrubs, which he had thought were awesome, now seemed childish. He’d aged a few years in the last few seconds.