Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 6, 2009

The Other Hand, by Chris Cleave

The Other HandI did not like this book.   It was written to support a cause, or rather, multiple causes.  It’s taut and pacy, but plotted to serve a journalist’s critique of:

  • Britain’s inhumane refugee and detention policy, including the privatisation of detention centres;
  • the exploitation of illegal immigrants, especially in agricultural industries;
  • British foreign policy in Nigeria, ignoring human rights abuses in exchange for oil (and probably also because of British investment in the offending oil companies);
  • the uselessness of the Home Office, its venality and internal shenanigans;
  • blithe tourism in war zones;
  • global indifference to the civil war in Nigeria (militias killing whole villages if they stand in the way of oil development;
  • the corruption of both Nigerian police and British detention centre staff, the currency being money and sex;
  • the public preference for media about trivia despite brave journalistic attempts to write serious stuff (is my cynicism showing?)
  • the cruel contrast between the innocence of village life in Nigeria and conspicuous consumption in the West;
  • British (Western) reluctance to take refugees; and
  •  (possibly) weak and careless parenting.

Quite a catalogue, eh?  All worthy causes, and not a moral ambiguity among them…

I didn’t like Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist, Sandy McCutcheon’s The Ha-Ha Man and Robert Drewe’s Grace, all of them written with an overt political agenda, and even if The Other Hand did have a credible plot I still wouldn’t like it because it’s so manipulative. 

For reviews more favourable than mine, see The Guardian,  or The Independent and (less enthusiastic) The Telegraph.  (Be careful, they all have spoilers, though not The Big One.)

Update (after looking for positive reviews)

See also Vulpes Libris, clearly as irritated as I was, or Reading Matters, persuaded to read it against her better judgement…


  1. Whew, here’s one I won’t need to worry about putting on my TBR list. What a relief! LOL.


    • Do read the Vulpes Libris review, it’s a hoot!


  2. Glad it wasn’t just me who nearly lost the will to live with this one, Lisa! You’re sooo right about all that manipulation nonsense …


    Anne B


  3. Two words spring to mind. Nail. Head.


  4. I found this to be a disappointing read. The main problem I had was the implausibility of it all.

    I’m relieved to find others who didn’t love it!


    • Hi Tracey, It’s interesting to be discussing it with the group at the moment: some clearly like it, and others are hesitating, a bit suspicious about the hype. We sometimes find that books that we’re not keen on end up being really good for discussion so I’m still glad we chose it. Lisa


  5. […] I found this book at the library and brought it home because ANZ LitLovers had recently read The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, partly set in Nigeria, but not written by a Nigerian.  While I don’t […]


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