If you are one of the many people who enjoyed Chris Cleave's first book, 'Incendiary', you will be pleased to hear that its follow up 'The Other Hand', is no less compelling. Part-thriller and part-multicultural saga, Cleave's latest offering deals with some of the most pertinent topics in the current globalised climate. Here is a brief review of this excellent novel.
'The Other Hand' from Chris Cleave starts by describing the situation of its main protagonist, Little Bee. He has spent the previous two years in an immigration detention centre. While much of the opening alludes to Little Bee's hopes for a brighter future, a mysterious past event clings darkly to the fragile optimism of this 16-year-old Nigerian girl. The reader is left intrigued by Bee's insistence on keeping herself unattractive to men.
Africa through the eyes of the English
As the remainder of the young girl's story slowly unfolds, Cleave begins to introduce the rest of the characters. They are mainly the members of the O'Rourke family. The introduction of this English family (they are originally from the affluent
Kingston-on-Thames area) allows Cleave to explore Africa's past within an English present. This leaves the reader with the choice of deciding whether on one hand, 'On the Other Hand' is essentially dealing with what happens in Africa or whether it is essentially about how people from affluent Britain view what happens in Africa.
Thematic It explores essentially postmodern themes such as globalisation, immigration, political violence, etc. To his credit, Cleave never resorts to a typically postmodern ironic nod and wink. Rather, the book retains an intense and chillingly compressed edge that will keep most readers hooked. Characterisation Perhaps the top marks for Cleave have to be reserved for his often brilliant characterisation. It doesn't take long to feel a nudging empathy for Little Bee. His portrayal of Sarah O'Rourke (a neglectful mother and an unfaithful wife), often brings some welcome light relief to counter the mounting tension.
On the negative side, there are a couple of scenes (the beach scene and unfortunately, the ending) that lack a certain logic. In fact, both scenes resemble a 'plot device'. The characters are led to perform actions that readers feel certain that they would not actually take. The fact that both of these scenes are fairly crucial to the book, makes this lack of judgement on the part of the author rather disappointing. Verdict Despite these crucial negatives, on the whole, 'The Other Hand' is compelling, powerful and emotive. Its oft-repeated flirtations with melodrama never detracts the reader too much from the tense mysteries underpinning the book.