A YEAR OF BOOKS – PRELUDE
Happy New Year!
A tad belated, I know, but if like me, you’re yet to fully get going on the sights you set for yourself at the turn of the year.
So, lemme cut to the chase.
I’m a sucky reader. I takes me months to finish one measly book. As a result I’m an avid short story devourer, but I shy away from anything beyond the novella wordmark. That’s one of the things I set out to change this year. So, I decided I’ll read one book per month this year (yeah, a bit lazy, but if you throw in the Lagos hassle and working weekends, it’s a good deal, actually). That’s 12 books in total.
That’s a year of books.
Why I’m telling you this is, though this is entirely my goal, there’s an added bonus for everyone. Whenever I’m done reading a book, I’d put up a review of said book at the month’s end. Last day of the month, and gbam!, a review from me.
These books will span from literary to thrillers to speculative, but they’ll all be fiction. There will be books by Nigerian authors, other African authors and Western authors as well. There’ll be diversity in everything, because that’s how I roll. I belong to everybody, and to nobody.
One last warning. These reviews WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the book before seeing the review, we’ll give you three scrolls to make up your mind. After that, you’re on your own.
So, onward, friends. The future is bright, littered with white pages and black fonts. Let’s do this!
Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen
Published by Kachifo Limited (Farafina), 2012
350 pages, paperback
*BEWARE! SPOILERS AHEAD!*
Fine Boys is Eghosa Imasuen’s second novel (the first which was To Saint Patrick), and primarily, tackles the ups, downs and sideways of University life in the pre-democracy nineties. In the book, 16-year-old Ewaen is admitted into the University of Benin to study medicine, and throughout the book, we follow Ewaen as he juggles academics, friends, pseudo-friends, confraternity (“confra”) boys, love interests, his own family even. The book is littered with social commentary on issues ranging from Nigerian politics of the nineties (coups, counter-coups, counter-counter-coups), power tussles, student violence, sex, teenage life, coming-of-age, family, and themes numerous enough to fill the Kainji Dam. For this, it’s garnered fans all over the country, continent and beyond.
So, I’m going to act like I didn’t just say all that, and tell you what I thought after reading the book.
CHARACTERS + VOICE
To be frank, I’d give the characterisation in this book a thumbs-down. While I loved the diverse multitude of character quirks and behaviours, none of them particularly stood out for me, and I didn’t completely connect with any. All my connections were distant; even that with the narrator, Ewaen, wasn’t anything special. I’d say none of the characters were fully developed enough for us to care.
All the characters felt secondary at different points, and none occupied sustained supporting roles, flitting in and out of Ewaen’s life (save for his family and one or two who stayed). I’m guessing this because it’s the way things happen in true stories (because I believe this is more memoir-like than fiction; more on that later). Problem is, none of them lasts long enough to have a heartfelt impact on the reader, and that ain’t good for no book.
For starters, I’m not really a fan of plotless books, and this book was, well, kinda one of those. Generally, stories are designed to make good use of the highest and lowest points for the main characters, so most scenes are designed to lead up to one big event or the other, then all culminating in the Final Big Event. Not Fine Boys.
Fine boys is told in a chronological sequence of events from the point-of-view of an older Ewaen. So, technically, it’s a memoir. While there are a few peaks and troughs in the narrative, there are no major life-changing, status-quo-altering events. Yes, Ewaen sometimes questions himself about who he’s become, and yes there are some overt changes in his habits like taking up smoking and drinking, but none is enough to evoke a life-altering impact for him, or the reader. In fact, none of the events are that life-altering for any of the characters. At least, not in the way they’re presented.
Another thing is, the ending is a slam. The story goes on like a jolly ride from start to middle, and middle to end, but the end is then like a car accident. Crash!
This is where the book starts to get better. We see strong themes come out to play. The rampant University Cultism of the nineties. Violence. Power tussles. Peer pressure. Sex. Student politics. National politics. Coming of age. Basically everything University life can throw at you in Nigeria, Fine Boys doles out in huge doses. It explores every possible nook, and for that, I was glad to have picked up the book.
One thing that struck me about the setting was the audacious nature of the descriptions. Eghosa didn’t say, “Oh you know, Adolor junction, the third junction along the Ugbowo-Lagos expressway, off the longest highway in downtown Benin.” He just says, Adolor junction, full stop. Like we already know, like we’ve been there too. Like he expects us to get it.
This is so cool because for decades, African writing has had to over-explain, had to describe all our stuff as if it was this fresh, new, exotic, never-before-visited jungle. We write to the western world, explaining places like Ojuelegba or Nyanya, while all a Dean Koontz book has to say is Uptown Chicago or Corner of Third and Fourth off the Seattle A1, and we’re expected to conjure up a picture of said place. Eghosa bypasses this and lays out his setting audaciously, and I love that about the book.
I also love that, though it was written in postcolonial/military-ruled Nigeria, there is almost no talk of the civil war (which, funny enough, almost all good Nigerian books can’t just refrain from speaking about). All political commentary is limited to the government of the time. However, I particularly felt strongly about the incessant pauses by the author to stop and comment on the goings-on in the country. While I’m aware every era has its societal ups and downs (and pretty much affects everything, yes), we don’t see all novels ridden with commentary about the government and social happenings. I don’t expect to read a book in ten years time and come up on lots of talk about the current naira devaluation and drop in crude price. I think it’d piss me off; like, there are better things to write about.
Lastly, I love that the book was set in Edo and Delta states. Yes, not only Lagos and Abuja and Enugu and Kaduna and Port-Harcourt. No. Egbon Nigerian writers; sometimes Makurdi, Illorin, Abeokuta, Eket, Yenagoa, Umuahia, Minna. We have thirty-six states. If it’s your five states, you can come and collect it. God bless you.
The best, and strongest part of this book? The style.
First, the book was pacy. Fast, time whizzing by, event after event. No time for dulling. There were also a lot of witty phrases, tongue-in-cheek references and overt humor within dialogue. Next were the unapologetic references and use of language, specifically pidgin and Niger-Deltan slangs. Eghosa intersperses pristine grammar with yansh, aseobi, cover-cloth, ebelebo and waterproof without batting an eyelash. He even measures distances with nepa poles!
How dare he! you say? My friend, keep quiet. Do you know how long we’ve played second fiddle to the western definition of what to and what not to include in our stories? It’s about time we broke those chains and unleashed ourselves on the world. The revolution of telling our own stories, in our own words, has begun everywhere. Junot Diaz and an army of Latino(a) writers have begun that war for their tribe. Eghosa has raised the clarion call for African writers with this book. Time to take up arms, y’all.
While I might not have found in Fine Boys, the same things I find in most books I like, I still enjoyed it. Character might have been a tad poor and plot virtually non-existent, but the themes were real sound and a strong, fresh and original style saved it from going under. I’d totally recommend it to you. More so if you went to the University of Benin, or lived in Edo or Delta states.
Next month, I’d be rolling up my sleeves and daring to review a classic. JURASSIC PARK by Michael Crichton!
See you guys then. Peace!
Written by Suyi Davies