When it comes to reading I’m quite fussy; it takes quite a lot to keep me interested. I admit I have the attention span of a small, very easily distracted child… and I’m 32… and it’s only getting worse! I’d heard great things about Celeste Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, even memorising the cover as it flashed past my eyes in an Instagram story one day thinking to myself that I should probably read it. The book had also popped up in Youtuber’s “favourites” videos and touted as one of the best reads of 2017. Late to the party as ever I gave in to the hype which would usually put me off.
The story begins in Shaker Heights, an Ohio neighbourhood where everything is planned. The houses are built to specification, the less affluent rent flats that from the exterior are purposefully made to give the illusion that only one family lives there, community rules include fines if lawns are above regulation height, and there is a social expectation that residents of the area are happier than most, successful with idyllic family lives.
We initially meet the Richardson’s, a typical Shaker Heights family, as their expensive and beautiful house burns to the ground. The fire department tells Elena Richardson (one of our central characters and mother to the Richardson family) that the blaze didn’t start from one place, it began as per the novel’s title: Little Fires Everywhere. Here we find ourselves suddenly in the midst of a mysterious fire set alight on each bed of the Richardson home as our other central character, Mia, and her teenage daughter leave town in a hurry.
Mia, a photographer and perpetual drifter, and her daughter rent an apartment in Shaker Heights from Elena and quickly become entwined with the Richardson family. Mia takes part-time work cleaning their household while her daughter Pearl becomes firm friends with the Richardson kids. But all turns sour as a local family adopt another local mother’s child against her will and from there the many threads of this story unravel.
The book itself is elegantly written and is a fascinating exploration of class, race, culture, and what it means to be a mother. There are moments that make the reader squirm with discomfort at both intentional and unintentional ignorance of some of the characters.
Overall it is a great read; intelligently written, compelling, and thought-provoking. I spent a while after I finished the book telling everyone who would listen that they should read it, especially if, like me, they can’t bear hype. I’ll be picking up Celeste Ng’s first novel soon as I enjoyed the way she writes so much.