Reader’s Corner: Tiny Sunbirds Far Away – Christie Watson

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When I started this blog I intended to spend some time discussing the books I was reading or had read or even wanted to read. I wanted to use it as a way to catalogue what I thought after reading. I don’t know about anyone else but I read so quickly and (usually) so frequently that a couple of days after putting a book down I could only tell you the very bare bones of the plot and perhaps if it had been a really good book then some vague, foggy ideas it had left me with. I thought the blog would be a good way of reminding myself what I thought of the book when I had a clear recollection of everything that happened in it.

But… since starting the blog I haven’t read a single book. In fact, the last book I read was Cold Comfort Farm. I loved it. I loved it so much that each book I have picked up in the intervening six months has been discarded a couple of pages in. Remember a few posts ago when I said I had started Bonfire of the Vanities? I read the introduction, I loved the introduction, and then I put the book back on the shelf and didn’t give it a second thought. About a week ago I picked up How much is Enough? by Robert & Edward Skidelsky and thoroughly enjoyed the 30 pages that I read – but it wasn’t fiction so it wasn’t really gripping and eventually I put it down and forgot it (I will be returning to it though).

Yesterday morning I woke up and decided that enough was enough. It had been so long since I’d finished a book that I was beginning to think maybe I would never read anything heavier than a blog ever again. That was a crazy thought for me to have, I have an English degree, I love words and there are so many books that I have read and loved. Whilst I’ve been through phases of not wanting to read in the past none of them had been quite as persistent as this one.

I decided that the best course of action was to pick an easy read. I am a fast reader so provided the story is gripping enough I can easily finish a 300 page novel in a day, and my plan was to read whatever book I chose in a day. I picked Christie Watson’s Tiny Sunbirds Far Away. I had heard lots of controversy surrounding it on various podcasts and had originally purchased it because it was on the reading list of a book club that I stopped attending before it was time to read it. I had never really fancied it for some reason or other – perhaps because the cover is orange (I notoriously do not enjoy books that have covers reminiscent of sunshine or the desert), or because it’s set in Nigeria (I for some reason find it very difficult to get into books set in far flung lands – entirely a problem with my imagination, but a problem nonetheless), or because it was from the point of view of a 12 year old girl – I’m not against this device when it works…but it so often doesn’t.

Anyway, I picked it up and turned page after page after page. Did I love it? Not really, but I didn’t hate it and I did finish it. It was gripping enough for me to read all in one. Some parts actually made me feel so emotional that I found myself fighting a large lump in my throat. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the plot here because I don’t want to spoil anything, but…I found the midwifery sections fascinating and wish there had been a few more of them, but that’s just my personal taste and not an objective critique of the book. Whilst I liked learning more about female genital mutilation I felt at times like I was actively ‘being educated’ – a lot of the sections on the subject read like hand-outs you might get in a high school PSHE lesson or copy from a leaflet. I didn’t feel that they all integrated into the story as well as they might. The last seventy pages or so I found a bit contrived and the ending left me cold.

Regarding the controversy of a white British woman writing from the point of view of a 12 year old Nigerian girl living in a rural compound… I believe that as long as it is done sensitively and carefully then anybody should be able to write about any subject or people that they choose but the book still made me feel a little bit uncomfortable and I’m not really sure why. It is possible that the problem lies with me and my own hang ups rather than being anything to do with the author. Christie Watson obviously loves and is incredibly knowledgeable about Nigeria – having a direct link through her husband and his family. Perhaps my discomfort doesn’t come directly from her writing but with how the book is presented and marketed. Or because it is written from the point of view of such a young girl – perhaps I’d find it more palatable if it was written from the point of view of an adult, a vantage point I could better believe the author could understand, rather than that of a child almost completely untouched by the western world. I am aware that Blessing’s voice is actually based on Christie’s seven year old daughter but I am still unsure about the authenticity of it. Again, this is probably my issue and not one with the book. After all, we can’t all just stick to writing what we know like good old Jane, can we? Something about it just makes me feel uneasy and a little suspicious.

All negatives aside, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away did its job in that it got me back into the world of reading. I have spent all day spring cleaning and preparing a magnificent roast dinner, there is a bottle of chardonnay getting frosty in the fridge and once the food has been demolished I intend to curl up on the sofa with a glass in one hand and Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night in the other.

I’d love to hear what anybody else who read Tiny Sunbirds Far Away thought of it and if you have read any other books by Christie Watson – how do they measure up? Also, I love recommendations so if you’ve read something unputdownable lately then let me know about it.

 

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  1. Pingback: Girl With Fringe

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