Last week I was heading into London and found myself on a train with no book – EEK! So, I ran into WHSmith in the station and looked for something I hadn’t read yet.
It was a small one with only a handful of books – so there wasn’t much there I hadn’t read, but from the new Richard and Judy Book Club (my boss has asked me to add here that it said Book Club is indeed exclusive to WHSmith and is in fact Britain’s Biggest Book Club) – there was Little Fires Everywhere.
That’s not a grammatically incorrect description of the state of the store, but in fact the new book from Celeste Ng (whose twitter name is helpfully @pronounced_ing).
The story is set in the planned community of Shaker Heights where Mrs Elena Richardson wakes up to find her house on fire. Her husband and four kids are all out of the house and she escapes easily, but once outside, with the fire brigade in attendance, she learns that the fire was started deliberately.
There were in fact, little fires set everywhere through the house.
What follows takes us back to a year previously when the mysterious artist Mia and her daughter Pearl move to town, renting a home from the Richardsons.
Mia’s presence figuratively sets little fires going inside all of the Richardsons, her and Pearl’s influence on them bringing forward a maelstrom of different emotions amongst them all, particularly the kids, who much of the story focuses on.
What I loved about this was the way the story seamlessly shifted point of view across eight different characters. Some books I’ve read in the past have struggled with just three, or over ambitiously gone for ten or twelve, but Ng manages to make each of them engaging enough and for the right length of time that it’s not off-putting.
Even my least favourite character – Mrs Richardson – earns that accolade through being a busy-body, rather than through poor writing, or for outstaying her welcome.
The only thing I found slightly distracting? It took me a while to figure out exactly when the book was set. My automatic assumption with most books is they are in present day – so when I worked out that one of the teenage characters ought to be in their early thirties, I realised I had to go back and reassess.
Maybe I missed something – quite possible – or maybe it just wasn’t clear. Still, it was only a minor niggle for a book I really enjoyed. The next time you’re in a train station and needing a read… give this one a go!
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is available now from Abacus