REVIEWED BY JOY BOUNDS
Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday: 2018)
Oyinkan Braithwaite’s book was published in 2018, and created an immediate impact, including being longlisted/shortlisted for several prestigious prizes. The title itself is provocative and possibly subversive – women are not often serial killers, never mind one’s sister!
Korede helps clear up when her little sister Ayoola decides to get rid of any boyfriend who has begun to irritate her. We are treated to some rather brutal, disturbing scenes before the main story kicks in – what will Korede do when beautiful Ayoola takes a fancy to the man she loves? Can she prevent him from becoming the next victim? The story, often funny, darkens as we progress through brief, tautly written chapters, where the relationships in this wealthy family are slowly revealed. The reaction to beauty in a person itself becomes an issue – how it can cause pain and exploitation as well as drawing attention and adoration. Braithwaite has said that she wrote the novel wanting to explore this, and she does, in disturbing ways. However, the main fascination of the book is the nature of the co-dependent relationship between the two sisters, and the wonderful depiction of life in Lagos.
Oyinkan Braithwaite is a Black writer, who spent her childhood in both Britain and Nigeria. I write this review as a white woman, conscious of my own privilege in having access to a lifetime of books which help me understand myself and reflect my place in the world.
This has not necessarily been the case for people in Africa or for Black British people.
Consequently, Black writers have often felt they have to speak for the whole of Black experience. For example, Chinua Achebe’sThings Fall Apart is seen as one of the first novels to truly reflect the perspective, experience and history of Nigerians, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has continued this in her novels, of which Half of the Yellow Sun is the best known.
But Oyinkan Braithwaite says in the interview that endsher book that she doesn’t want people to feel that she is speak- ing to Nigerian experience – ‘I’m speaking to my experience, to the things I’m interested in, and that’s all I can do.’ She delights in the fact that she has written a genre novel, one that is purely for the enjoyment of its readers.
In fact, she achieves much more.
The Black Lives Matter movement challenges us to examine equality and
diversity in all areas of society, and we can be happy that so many Black writers have begun to cut through the inertia thatdenies that equality. Braithwaite does so in a way that gives us both a good read, and a new perspective.