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Posts for March 5, 2021

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Books 2021, 3)

My thoughts on Celeste Ng’s debut novel, as suggested by one of my tutors at Birkbeck.

This book is infuriating. At times, and in certain ways, at least. Or not the book, but some of the characters.

For example, the parents, especially the dad — are so fucking pathetic it makes me angry. He can’t even boil an egg for his kids’ breakfast when his wife’s away.

And throughout the early part you’re wondering why do they both love Lydia much more than their other two kids? Even before she dies, I mean?

Oh, yes it’s a dead girl story, did I mention that? Lydia is fridged in the first line, so it’s not a spoiler. It’s totally a fridging, though. That page tells you that the term means killing a female character ‘often as a plot device intended to move a male character’s story arc forward.’ Lydia’s death drives the whole plot, including the actions of her father and brother, so it definitely qualifies.

Her mother and little sister too, but that doesn’t lessen the truth of it.

It’s a very good exposition of a family with secrets at its heart. Though in the case of some of the secrets, there’s no very good reason for the person to keep them secret. A lot of problems could have been avoided — including, probably, the death of Lydia — if people had just talked to each other. That’s part of what’s so infuriating about it at times.

But maybe that — the difficulties people, families, have in communicating — is the point.

I also wondered why she chose to set it in the time she does. The present day parts are in 1977-8. I think it’s so that she can write about the particular immigrant experience she does: second and third generation Chinese immigrants to the US.

I picked this up because one of my tutors recommended it to me, due to its use of an omniscient narrator. I’m trying something similar with something I’m working on at the moment. This article in the New York Times practically credits Ng with bringing omniscient narration back into fashion. I don’t feel that it ever really went away, but maybe it has remained more common in SF than in literary fiction. Though as I write that I’m not sure I could cite an example from recent SF either, so maybe I’m wrong.

Here’s a good article by Ng herself about her decision to use the device. It’s been useful to me, anyway. And I actually enjoyed the book, aside from being annoyed at times.