Celeste Ng’s novel “Little Fires Everywhere” was the book I rated the highest during the month of June 2020, so that’s why I was curious to tackle her debut novel. With “Everything I Never Told You”, I wasn’t disappointed either and settled on a 4/5 ★ rating, just like for the other book.
The first thing that was instantly noticeable, was once again the author’s impeccable style. It’s polished, it captures your interest and it flows smoothly. I could definitely see someone saying that it’s too “perfect” but I simply appreciated that through this type of writing, the plot was completely in the foreground. Every once in a while you notice some interesting or beautiful turns of phrases, just like the two below:
“She unlocked the door and stepped out onto the asphalt. The noise outside the car was deafening: a million marbles hitting a million tin roofs, a million radios all crackling on the same non-station. By the time she shut the door she was drenched.” (p. 86)
“It was too big to talk about, what had happened. It was like a landscape they could not see all at once; it was like the sky at night, which turned and turned so they couldn’t find its edges. It would always feel too big.” (p. 155)
The narrative features the intertwining relationships of a family of 5: The parents and their three children. Through the death of their older daughter (which isn’t a spoiler, don’t worry, that’s how the book starts and it’s mentioned within the first sentences 😉 ), her parents and her siblings become drawn into the search for answers on what exactly happened to her. Topics such as the coming of age, relationships between parents and their children, siblings among each other and parental aspirations are presented to the reader. This book leaves you thinking of how many things are left unspoken within your own family and how everything could change for the better, if this silence would be turned into a conversation.
“So when James [her husband] came home that night, she said simply, ‘My mother died’. Then she turned back to the stove and added, ‘And the lawn needs mowing,’ and he understood: they would not talk about it.” (p. 80)
In comparison to “Little Fires Everywhere”, this novel felt much more psychological, the author permitting you to get a deeper insight into each of the characters’ psyche. What stood out to me the most, was the subject of how over-ambitious parental aspirations can ruin the tender and developing character of a child. What happens when all the things the parents haven’t achieved themselves are placed as expectations upon their children and how damaging that can be. Here is one of the prime cases when a piece of fiction can be just as educating as non-fiction, so that I would see the book as a must-read for anyone who would be planning to have children.
“It was a sign, Marilyn [the mother] decided. For her it was too late. But it wasn’t too late for Lydia [the daughter]. Marilyn would not be like her own mother, shunting her daughter toward husband and house, a life spent safely behind a deadbolt. She would help Lydia do everything she was capable of. She would spend the rest of her years guiding Lydia, sheltering her. The way you tended a prize rose: helping it grow, propping it with stakes, arching her stem toward perfection.” (p. 147)
“Every time, as he heard his own voice, James [the father] bit the tip of his tongue, too late. He did not understand why he said these things to Nath [his son], for that would have meant understanding something far more painful: that Nath reminded him more and more of himself, of everything he wanted to forget from his own boyhood.” (p. 156)
The only parts that I didn’t find enjoyable, were those that felt a bit too cliché & forced. How the main characters, Lydia & James met each other: James having been Lydia’s professor & her kissing him right after their first lecture together in his office… Or the fact that James ended up having an affair with his younger assistant at university…
“She found him at his desk, head propped against the wall, reading that morning’s Crimson.
‘Professor Lee? I’m Marilyn Walker. I was in your lecture just now?’
[… after a bit of conversation]
He grinned into his coffee cup, and Marilyn leaned across the desk and kissed him.” (p. 33 & 35)
“All through the second lecture, Marilyn remembered the smell of his skin – clean and sharp, like the air after a rainstorm – and the feel of his hands at her waist and even her palms grew warm.” (p. 38)
” ‘You shouldn’t be here,’ Louisa [the young assistant] says again. It’s not a question. […] ‘Why don’t you come to my apartment. I’ll cook you some lunch.’ And he nods. […] Then she unlocks the door and lets them in and leads him straight to the bedroom.” (p. 71)
Once you manage to get through those few annoying bits, what most importantly influenced my high rating was how captivating the book was. From the moment I have started it, I would have ideally liked to finish it in a single sitting. What actually happened, was finishing it within three days, which was pretty fair too 😀 I also know that I will surely want to read the next book written by the author and I’d suggest you to give the two that have been published so far a chance! 🙂
Edition: ISBN 9780349134284
Abacus Publishing, Little Brown Books