Review: Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie (2019)

Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie

Blurb:

In this collection of short stories, offbeat characters are caught up in extraordinary situations that test the boundaries of reality.

A love-hungry goddess of the sea arrives on an island inhabited by eunuchs.

A girl from Martinique moonlights as a Grace Jones impersonator.

Dimension-hopping monks sworn to silence must face a bloody reckoning.

And a homeless man goes right back, to the very beginning, through a gap in time.

Nudibranch is a dark and seductive foray into the surreal.

Review:

These powerful, strange stories are the first fiction works by Irenosen Okojie that I have read. Right from the start, the stories spoke to me: reading them was a hugely affective experience that I am probably going to struggle to put into words. Suffice to say I will be reading everything else she has written and will write.

The style is unique, heady, bold and confident. Okojie stretches sentences and images like elastic, twanging reality into strange shapes. She pivots on a knife-edge, always leading the reader somewhere totally unexpected. Words become jewels, weapons, made new in her fierce, fearless prose. It would be fruitless to try and compare such originality with other writers, but I experienced a surge of joy when Amos Tutola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard was explictly referenced – a book I haven’t read for many years, but which I remember giving me a similar feeling of dazzling new possibilities. In fact, if I had to find echoes of Okojie’s force-of-nature style in other works, I suspect it would be in previous Caine Prize anthologies (which, by the way, are a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to explore African literature) – it is no surprise that Irenosen Okojie’s story Grace Jones is this year’s winner. It is a perfect short story.

Some of the stories are incredibly dark, drenched in horror: the monks in Filamo and the awful unfolding of events in Point and Trill gave me seasonally appropriate nightmares. My favourite stories, apart from Grace Jones, are the title story, Nudibranch, Mangata, Komza Bright Morning and Dune Dunehelm (even the list of titles sounds like an incantation). I really don’t want to go into detail as the discovery of the surreal, surprising, extraordinarily varied worlds she creates in these stories was a large part of the joy for me. Instead, I’ll just give you a taster – from the opening of Grace Jones:

“Once the stray parts of a singed scene had found their way into the bedroom, onyx edges gleaming and the figures without memories had lost their molten heads to the coming morning, after she’d pressed her face against the space under the doorway crying, reaching for some untouched handful of earth as sustenance, the agency called, Hassan more specifically.”

As you can tell, these stories really had an effect on me. I recently listened to Irenosen’s keynote speech for the National Creative Writing Industry Conference, run by Comma Press and Manchester Met University, which was also amazing and incredibly inspiring. From a very personal point of view, Irenosen Okojie’s words have reignited my own passion for writing, something I have been struggling to find during this difficult year. Okojie’s mind-bending, reality-stretching style of writing won’t be for everyone (and actually it isn’t how I write at all, although that is beside the point!) but for me, reading these astounding stories has been a moving, powerful, wonderful experience, and I owe her a debt of gratitude.

Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie is published by Dialogue Books, and will be out in paperback on 12th November.

5 thoughts on “Review: Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie (2019)

  1. As always Ellie, this was a beautiful review and the book sounds great! You make it sound so unique, which I’m sure it is, and I might just give it a shot. Good luck for your writing, I completely know what you mean and just have to push myself to get words on paper some days. You’ll get there xx

    Liked by 1 person

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