Friday, 24 March 2017

Book Review - Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This one had me scratching my head. I really wanted to love it but I couldn't. The basis of the story is that Lydia has died and her family are struggling to understand why and how this could have happened to them. The setting is 1970s Ohio and the family are the only Chinese-American family in the town. James wants to fit in, to be American and not stand out; Marilyn wanted to break out and be different to her mother but has ended up just like her; Lydia wants to please her parents but can't keep up with their image of her; Nath wants to be noticed by his parents but knows he can't compete with Lydia for their affections; Hannah wants to observe and keep her family safe.

My problem is that I found the characters rather cold and distant. The narrative switches between the 1950s when James and Marilyn met and the family in the 1970s. We are told the story through the experiences and thoughts of the characters and I think some of my problems stemmed from here. I didn't really feel too much difference between the characters, they were all rather detached, as if observing events rather than taking part in them. I understand that this novel was written as part of a graduate writing programme and I can see the fingerprints of this in the text. One of the joys of writing is the energy that inhabits a story and hopefully flows out when it is read. This book felt as if it had been written and re-written so often that some of the spark was lost.

Having said that I did enjoy the unfolding of the drama/mystery of Lydia's death. Each member of the family uncovers something about her life that shocks them and makes them realise something about themselves. The family threatens to shatter beyond repair and part of the jeopardy of the story is what will happen to the family.

Celeste Ng has written a satisfying first novel and I look forward to reading her second novel when it comes out later this year.   

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