Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.

Little Fires Everywhere is a thought-provoking vivid portrayal of a small community split by a heated custody battle. Ng’s style – which reminded me of Ann Patchettis almost prosaic: it has a gentle rhythm; there is a softness to her phrases, her casual observations are always affecting. Ng’s writing is elegant and engaging.

The fog mirrored her state of mind so perfectly she felt as if she were walking through her own brain: a haze of formless, pervasive emotion, nothing she could grasp, but full of looming thoughts that appeared from nowhere, startling her, the receded into whiteness again before she was even sure what she had seen.

The novel broaches many difficult topics, ranging from parenthood, motherhood in particular, to race.

It came, over and over, down to this: What makes someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?

Characters are realistic for they are quite flawed: they can be hypocritical, selfish, obstinate. The Richardsons especially, they all are incredibly self-absorbed. They do not see how truly privileged they are. Yet they are not wholly dislikable: they think, feel and say things that are quite relatable and or understandable. Mia and Pearl Warren are equally multi-faceted. Mia’s love for art, and for her daughter, play a strong role in the novel.
Tensions start emerging between Mrs. Richardson and Mia: their different lifestyles and parenting echo ideas of order vs. disorder; Mrs. Richardson exalts control while Mia is a free agent, and it is only natural for the Richardsons ‘children’ to feel a pull towards this woman, so unlike their mother. I didn’t particularly love any of the characters. The teenagers behave…well, like teenagers. Making stupid mistakes, fighting over nothing…Moody, I felt was written off towards the end. I wanted a bit more of his character, especially given that I didn’t feel like we get a full picture of him. Izzy I liked, for the most part. I was curious of the way she acted and her role as the ‘black sheep’ of the family. Lexie and Pearl were a bit less likeable but they nevertheless showcased depth. Mrs. Richardson is a difficult one. On one hand, we come to understand her ways, on the other, we also see just how false and self-righteous she could be. Mia, well, I understood why she unnerved Mrs. Richardson, but I could also see why Izzy was so taken by her.
Now, on the difficult custody case: there isn’t a real right or wrong, not in my mind. Ng’s gives us an unbiased narrative, that doesn’t claim to know what the best solution is. Yet she is far from dispassionate. We come to feel for both the adoptive couple and the biological mother. Similarly, Ng compares the Richardsons and the Warrens. And within the families themselves we see different attitude and ethics, which in turn creates conflict between the characters.
Lastly, despite the deliberately slow storyline, tension underlines most scenes: it is a thoroughly engrossing novel.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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