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June book of the month: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Join author webchat Tuesday 26 June at 9pm

(95 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 01-Jun-18 17:25:12

Our June book of the month has been described by one of the mn book bloggers as: "without a doubt one of the best books I have read this year" and another says: "My life was put on hold until I had finished the very last word. I gorged on this novel and greedily devoured every single page." Reece Witherspoon has already snapped up the rights, so join us in reading this now.

Author Celeste Ng will be joining us for a webchat on this thread on 26 June when she'll be answering questions about the book and you'll have the opportunity to discuss with other readers. Find out more about the book, read - or listen to - an extract and find out what the Mumsnet bloggers have to say about Little Fires Everywhere

SometimesTheSmallestThings Tue 26-Jun-18 21:18:05

I really enjoyed this book and loved feeling so drawn into so many characters’ narratives and seeing the little world of Shaker Heights and the huge themes of the book from all their different perspectives. Are there any characters in the book you’d most like to revisit? I so wanted to know how Pearl settled in her next home, and wondered too what happened in all the years since to the Ryans.

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:20:06

clary

I loved this book especially the relationships of the teenagers. I agree re Mia, also how she was constantly able to find money from nowhere eg to travel around hmmmmmmm

I also found the photos stayed with me and would like to ask if they were inspired by someone else's work (whose?) r are they our own ideas?

Hi clary!

All of Mia's photos are imagined--but I spent time looking at contemporary and up-and-coming photographers' works to learn what kinds of techniques were possible, and what kinds of themes the artists were exploring. Then I used those ideas to make up Mia's photos. One real-life model for her, though, was the photographer Cindy Sherman--she's one of my favorites, and I imagined she would have been one of Mia's mental role models.

littlerose12345 Tue 26-Jun-18 21:21:14

Thank you for answering!
Lots of great questions tonight!

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:23:05

VanderlyleGeek

Hi Celeste,

Thanks for doing this chat! I was wondering if you could discuss your choice of Ohio as the setting for both of your novels. Shaker Heights' quirky charm aside, how/does the state itself function for you? Does it encapsulate a specific outlook or worldview?

Hi VanderlyleGeek! I set both novels in Ohio because it's territory that I know well, having grown up there. But I do think Ohio represents a particular bit of America: it's midwestern, but not quite, it's got big cities but it's also quite rural in parts; it's neither west nor east nor plains--in a lot of way, it's the most average state in the union, and it's what many people think of when they think of "typical America." So I liked the idea of setting both of these stories in this "typical" place--scare quotes very much intended--to encourage readers to think about the larger context f the country and our culture.

I don't know yet if my next work will be set in Ohio; that's still up in the air.

FernieB Tue 26-Jun-18 21:24:10

Hi Celeste. I loved this book and will be recommending it to my book club.

The mother-daughter relationships are complex. I liked that Mia had left her family behind seemingly without regret and kept moving whereas Pearl was desperate to put roots down. It was as though Elena and Mia had the wrong daughters!

Did you base any characters on anyone you know/have met? Are there elements of you in any of them?

MamaCBear Tue 26-Jun-18 21:25:14

By the way, great idea for a prank with the sticks in the locks! Is that something you'd heard of before or did you make it up?

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:25:24

MamaCBear

Finished this yesterday and really enjoyed it. Can see why the film rights got snapped up, it read in quite a cinematic way and I kept trying to think who I would cast as I read it. I'd like to know if Celeste had any ideal actors she would cast in these roles?

Hi MamaCBear! I'm ecstatic to have Reese Witherspoon as Elena Richardson--she was my dream casting from the start. While watching Big Little Lies, I said to my husband, "Wouldn't she be amazing as Mrs. Richardson?" So that's a dream come true. I'm also thrilled to have Kerry Washington as Mia; having a black actress will bring the themes of race right up to the front in the TV adaptation.

For the teens, I imagine they'll have to find some young rising stars. Zendaya would be amazing for Pearl, as Kerry's onscreen daughter. And I'll put in a plug to the casting gods for Jon Hamm as Mr. Richardson, just because I happen to like him very, very much.

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:27:44

SallySwann

If it's not too presumptuous, your ethnic origin appears to be similar to Bebe. If that is true, have you maintained a strong understanding of your background?

Hi SallySwann! Yes, you're correct: I'm a Chinese-American woman, though Bebe is a new immigrant and I'm first-generation (I was born here in the US). So in many ways I'm not as connected to Chinese culture as Bebe is: I don't speak Cantonese, my family's dialect, I've lived here all my life, and my main cultural references are very American. Having been raised by two immigrant parents, though, I do feel an understanding of some of the ways Chinese people tend to look at life, as well as what an immigrant's experience in the US might be like.

Thank you for your question!

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:30:14

FernieB

I was intrigued by the relationship between Izzy and her mother. Clearly this was a result of Elena's fear that Izzy wouldn't be 'normal' after her rough start to life, meaning that she picked on every little thing Izzy said or did. It's sad that Elena was unable to see this and also that Izzy's siblings had learnt to see her in the same way as their mother.

As a mother myself I'd like to think that Izzy and Elena are reunited at some point, but I doubt they would be. I'd like to ask Celeste if she thinks Izzy would return and also if Mia ever sees her parents again?

Hi FernieB,

Ah, as a mom myself, I'd also like to see all the daughters and mothers have some kind of working relationship int he future. smile I don't know if Izzy will return, but I'm pretty sure she would want to get in touch with her family at some point. It's hard to escape your family, and even harder to leave them behind forever. And I can imagine a time when Mia would make contact with her parents again--likely for Pearl's sake. But I'll leave the question of whether all of this ever actually happens up to the reader. smile

PoodleQueen Tue 26-Jun-18 21:30:15

Thank you so much for answering our questions, Celeste. It's great to have this opportunity.

MamaCBear Tue 26-Jun-18 21:30:59

Oooh great casting choices, fingers crossed for Jon Hamm!

Celama Tue 26-Jun-18 21:31:01

Hi Celeste, I LOVED this book. It was one that I just wanted to keep reading when I should have been doing other things! It was beautifully descriptive and your style of writing was so believable. I haven’t read Everything I Never Told You although I will now; which one did you enjoy writing the most?

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:32:44

starlight36

Hi Celeste,
You've covered off my question about Shaker Heights already!
I also wondered if it was a conscious decision to make all of the string characters in the book female?

Hi starlight36,

Yes, I deliberately focused on the mothers and daughters in the novel. Those are the stories I tend to find most interesting, so they're the ones I write!

This is not to say that men's stories aren't also interesting, but women's stories and stories about mothers often get denigrated in literature, treated as not "serious" or "literary" or "important." I wanted to fight that trend, and treat family and mother-daughter relationships with the same weight we give to stories about war and "men's issues." Hence the focus on women and girls.

Thanks for your question!

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:34:57

MrsSchadenfreude

I’m only on chapter 8, and I’m loving it so far. I like the fact that none of the characters are wholly likeable. I also think that this sort of community would only exist in US and not in U.K. or other parts of Europe (I live in Eastern Europe and it is completely alien to here).

Hi Mrs. Schadenfreude! You didn't ask a question technically but I had to jump in and say that recently, I was in Germany and Switzerland for book tour, and learned that in Zurich they also have the small garbage trucks, the rules about cutting your grass, and the rules about what colors you can paint your house! I had no idea. I was told that's common in many parts of Switzerland, and was fascinated to learn this.

SallySwann Tue 26-Jun-18 21:36:30

It is interesting that you partially grew up in Shaker Heights. Is it as "perfect" as you portray and are there plenty of Richardson type families there?

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:36:40

SometimesTheSmallestThings

I really enjoyed this book and loved feeling so drawn into so many characters’ narratives and seeing the little world of Shaker Heights and the huge themes of the book from all their different perspectives. Are there any characters in the book you’d most like to revisit? I so wanted to know how Pearl settled in her next home, and wondered too what happened in all the years since to the Ryans.

Hi SometimesTheSmallestThing! Ooh, good question, and one I hadn't thought about. I'd like to know how all the teens are doing in their college years and their adult lives. I like to think that the events of this novel are a turning point for many of them, and that the things they learn emotionally in the book may point each of their lives in a different direction. I'll let the readers decide what that is, for now!

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:38:37

FernieB

Hi Celeste. I loved this book and will be recommending it to my book club.

The mother-daughter relationships are complex. I liked that Mia had left her family behind seemingly without regret and kept moving whereas Pearl was desperate to put roots down. It was as though Elena and Mia had the wrong daughters!

Did you base any characters on anyone you know/have met? Are there elements of you in any of them?

Hi FernieB! Thank you so much for reading and for recommending--hope it starts a good discussion for your book club.

All of the characters are imagined, though many of them steal little personality traits from people I know--that's how all writers work, I think. And there are elements of me in all of them, even Mrs. Richardson. I have to find a part of me in each character, or else I find I can't write them as full, rounded, complicated people.

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:39:24

MamaCBear

By the way, great idea for a prank with the sticks in the locks! Is that something you'd heard of before or did you make it up?

Hi MamaCBear,

I am going to have to take the Fifth on this one--which here in the US is the amendment to the constitution that says you don't have to incriminate yourself. wink

MrsSchadenfreude Tue 26-Jun-18 21:39:53

Oh yes, that’s true about Switzerland! I have family there and my aunt can’t flush her toilet after 10.00 pm in her apartment block. No car washing on Sundays, or barbecues, or mowing the lawn either. We’re much more chaotic here wink although my block has a notice giving “silent hours” no-one pays much attention!

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:42:06

Celama

Hi Celeste, I LOVED this book. It was one that I just wanted to keep reading when I should have been doing other things! It was beautifully descriptive and your style of writing was so believable. I haven’t read Everything I Never Told You although I will now; which one did you enjoy writing the most?

Hi Celama! Thank you so much for reading. The two novels were really different writing experiences--when I wrote Everything I Never Told You, I really didn't know if the book would ever be published or if anyone would ever read it, so writing it was a huge leap of faith and a very slow process. When I was writing Little Fires Everywhere, I was fairly sure it would eventually be published as the first novel had done well, so I felt some pressure to not disappoint my readers!

Having said that, writing Little Fires Everywhere was really, really fun. There was more space for some humor, more space for more characters and a bigger cast, and it was a delight to get to mentally revisit my teen years and my hometown. I really enjoyed it, in a way I seldom get to enjoy writing projects.

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:45:05

SallySwann

It is interesting that you partially grew up in Shaker Heights. Is it as "perfect" as you portray and are there plenty of Richardson type families there?

Hi SallySwann! Shaker Heights is definitely not "perfect"--but I think the people who live there believe that it could be a perfect community if everyone just tried hard enough. I find that kind of idealism both admirable and terrifying. It's such a laudable goal, perfection, but taking idealism to extremes can be rather dangerous.

I will say that at almost every single reading I've done--even one in Munich, Germany!--there's been someone in the audience from Shaker Heights or who knows it well. They always tell me that they think I captured the town pretty accurately. And, incidentally, they always tell me they're pretty sure they know the Richardson family. wink

CelesteNg Tue 26-Jun-18 21:45:46

MrsSchadenfreude

Oh yes, that’s true about Switzerland! I have family there and my aunt can’t flush her toilet after 10.00 pm in her apartment block. No car washing on Sundays, or barbecues, or mowing the lawn either. We’re much more chaotic here wink although my block has a notice giving “silent hours” no-one pays much attention!

She... she can't flush her toilet after 10pm? Please don't tell Shaker Heights; I don't want them getting any more ideas!

SallySwann Tue 26-Jun-18 21:45:55

Thank you Celeste for such a lovely novel. The best ones are always the ones you don't want to end and thus was one such. I felt really sorry for Izzy throughout until it was clear that she really did set the fire. Did you imagine her finally catching up with Mia I wonder?

FernieB Tue 26-Jun-18 21:48:16

Thanks for answering my questions Celeste.

What are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about it? And where do you write?

Celama Tue 26-Jun-18 21:49:02

Thanks for such a full answer Celeste - I hadn’t thought about that aspect of having more to prove with a second book; you’ve really set yourself up now for your third!

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