Sunday, 3 January 2021

Book Review: Freshwater by Akweake Emezi

Freshwater Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A most intriguing read.

The author is on my list of Nigerian writers to read and I wanted to start with her first novel which this is. Akwaeke Emezi is Igbo/Tamil, raised in NIgeria, living in USA. She won the 2017 Commonwealth short story prize for Africa with her short story Igbo cultural cosmology. This book is the story of a young woman, abused to the point of self disintegration and the multiple personalities as they would be called in the North which materialise as she struggles through her youth, spiraling out of control through disastrous sexual encounteres and self mutilations. The author tells the young woman's story through her various voices, showing the reader how these difering daemons play out in her rollercoaster of a life. They are written as if they were spirits, gods in her body, trapped within the marble of her mind from which sometimes one, sometimes another and sometimes the girl herself are to the fore in her daily life.

A bit of context is useful to understanding this - The Igbo use the term ogbanje to denote an essentially evil spirit, the "children who come and go" which from birth to puberty cycle through death and return causing much grief to the family. Female circumcision is thought to get rid of them. The high female god Ala is the goddess of earth, fertility, mortality who holds the deceased in her womb, is the guardian of women and rules the underworld. Her messenger on earth to the living is the Python. Tributes to her are paid during the annual Yam Festival.

Ada has been named after the Python, and the spirits inside her, the personalities are obanje. This is a survival story, the story about coming to terms with the trauma of abuse and finding who you are after it.

It is an incredibly ambitious first novel. Does it work, does Emezi bring it off? To a certain extent yes. She clearly is an imaginative, highly creative writer or budding talent. For me the novel was a bit too long and I felt the story could have been improved by a compression. But yes she does give you an insight into the young women's mental state without it being bathed in the usual jargon and metaphors. The struggle for control is there, the despair, the need for escape, to blot out the unidentifiable trauma, the desperation. I most certainly will read more by her.

Friday, 25 December 2020

Book Review: Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Ordinary People Ordinary People by Diana Evans
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I very seldom trash a book but this has been the most boring book I have ever read. It was my in person book club choice for this month and I've managed about half way through it and that was a stretch so as a Christmas present to myself I am giving up on it! It is everything I dislike in a a novel - domesticity abounds, huge amount of dialog such that it almost reads like a script, characters I have absolutely no interest in and who have nothing interesting happening to them. It is set in a part of London I know and granted her desciptions of the area ran true - and that's my only positive about this book. I read reviews about it praising its prose and insight Guardian Review but I just don't get it, I'm just not reading the same book. For me it lived up to its title Ordinary. More enticing reads await.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Book Review: The Fires of Autumn by Irène Némirovsky

The Fires of Autumn The Fires of Autumn by Irène Némirovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a but to get into this book as the opening for me had too much detail and I wasn’t the least bit interested in the domesticity it portrayed.
As the story went on it got better in term of engagement but I disliked both Bernard – spoilt brat – and Thérèse who is in many ways not a woman who appeals to me, but is of her time in her dependency, although we see her strength as she finally does something brave and constructive and takes the family out of Paris to the safety of the countryside. Although the happy ending did fill me with emotion , I thought it played a bit too much to the romantic Hollywood version of life.

The writing good have done from a good edit – to give but one example, things like saying a man walked down the street carrying a loaf of bread and then explaining it was a baguette – unnecessary detail, repetitive, we all know what a baguette is, a loaf of a baguette would suffice , both was a waste and spoilt the flow and my read.

It has been years since I read Suite Francaise, so comparing it is tricky but I would say I think it is a lesser read. Now whether it would make a better film is another question, as the movie was not well done.

In conclusion, if you are a Nemirovsoky fan or student, yes read; if in the current time you're looking for a good happy weep and like period pieces yes read; otherwise move on