Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Sparks and flames: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere is an intricate and observant novel that shines a light on false perfection and the intricate way in which everyday things are interlinked. Shaker Heights is a carefully planned suburb of Cleveland, where everything has order and they pride themselves on being progressive. Elena Richardson embodies much of Shaker’s ideals, but when the Richardson house is found burnt down, the recent past must be unravelled to see how the arrival of the Richardson’s tenants, the artist Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl, affected the four Richardson children, their parents, and the whole community, showing how underneath things aren’t always quite as they seem.

The narrative structure is particularly impressive, with an omniscient narrator flashing back from the burnt house to tell the story from many perspectives in a way that foreshadows and hints at past events in a satisfying way. Key moments and details that will clearly cause a ‘little fire’ later on, be misunderstood or reinterpreted by other characters, are apparent to the reader, but also not overly signposted by the writing. Through this, the book has a great sense of connection and coincidence as the present and past come together in the relationship between the Richardsons and their new tenants and in the battle over the custody of a Chinese-American baby that grips Shaker Heights and puts Elena and Mia on different sides.

Little Fires Everywhere is a novel somehow both charming and tense, with the drama between the characters built upon tiny moments and the overall narrative one that doesn’t reveal surprises so much as fill in the gaps to show how interpretations can be different. The teenage characters are a highlight and this is the kind of adult novel that can also be enjoyed by older teenagers. This tangle of characters and detail is an impressive book with a very satisfying linking of structure and themes and a very apt title in multiple ways. The ‘little fires’ are what makes the novel blaze.