“We were fishermen. My brothers and I became fishermen in January of 1996 after our father moved out of Akure, a town in the west of Nigeria, where we had lived together all our lives.”
LIKE the Seven Killings book (also long listed for the Man Booker), this has the patois of the street, albeit related from Michigan now where Obioma is a Fiction Fellow, which sort of sounds right too, an FF. It perhaps helps if you are used to the dynamics of extended families.
“Father was an unusual man. When everyone was taking up the gospel of birth control, he – an only child who had grown up with his mother longing for siblings – had a dream of a house full children, a clan from his body.”
And these boys are a rumbustious handful of scallywags. The style, I am informed, is to follow the west African tradition of story telling at which their mother is adept. She relays precisely the misdemeanours of the young brothers to the said father who returns each week, usually to administer a belting. It is Lake Woebegone meets Omi-Ala, a dreadful river.
Once you get used to the style, it can be rich and lyrical:
“Mother was a falconer….She owned copies of our minds in the pockets of her own mind and so could easily sniff troubles early in their forming, the same way sailors discern the forming foetus of a coming storm”.
There are other occasional but glorious passages that arrive through the chaos:
“Every year, as this day approached, it seemed as if a band of a thousand invisible surgeons, armed to the teeth with knives, trephines, needles and extraordinary anaesthetic materials, came with the influx of the north wind and settled in Akure. Then at night-time, while the people slept, they would commit frantic, temporal lobotomy of their souls in quick painless snatches, and vanish at dawn before the effects of the surgeries began to show. The people would wake with bodies sodden with anxiety, hearts pulsating with fear, heads drooping with the memory of loss, eyes dripping with tears, lips gyrating in solemn prayers, and bodies trembling with fright. They would all become like blurred pencil portraits in a child’s wrinkled drawing book, waiting to be erased. In that grim condition, the city would retract inwards like a threatened snail.”
A notable theme of the Man Booker 2015 candidates is the strength of the writing, the penmanship if you like, over the more traditional virtues of the novel – plot, characterisation, narrative, description, relationships. There is a lot of I. And more I.