Review: Wahala by Nikki May (2022)

Blurb

Ronke, Simi, Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London. They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English. Not all of them choose to see it that way.

Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their thirties, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian); Boo enjoys (correction: endures) stay-at-home motherhood; while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her urban vibe yet again.

When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them. Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself.

Explosive, hilarious and wildly entertaining, this razor-sharp tale of love, race and family will have you laughing, crying and gasping in horror. Fearlessly political about class, colourism and clothes, the spellbinding Wahala is for anyone who has ever cherished friendship, in all its forms.

Review

My first pre-order of 2022 – I just couldn’t resist the gorgeous Waterstones special edition – and wow, what a treat! I loved this book – yet another one I just couldn’t put down.

There is so much I enjoyed about Wahala: the complex, realistic portrayals of female friendships; the humour threaded throughout; the rising tension; oh, and the food! This novel made me so hungry, and I was delighted to find some of Ronke’s recipes at the end of the book. I’m looking forward to trying them out.

Speaking of Ronke, while I loved all of the main trio, she was the one who captured my heart. It’s a wonderful, if bittersweet, feeling when a fictional character becomes so real to you that you feel sad you can’t meet her in real life – I wanted nothing more than to linger over a long lunch at Buka talking about life with her. For me, she feels like the emotional centre of the novel, and following her journey was the highlight of Wahala. However, I also really enjoyed the character of Boo, whose struggles with domestic life rang uncomfortably true, and Simi, who stays frustratingly but understandably silent in the face of her husband’s assumptions. I liked the way that the male characters were just as three-dimensional and nuanced as the women – they aren’t caricatures, but real people, and the more I learned about Kayode, Didier and Martin, the more I warmed to them. As for Isobel – well. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

Nikki May does a wonderful job of drawing distinctions between the characters’ relationships with their heritage and their families, blasting the flattening narrative that ‘mixed-race’ is a single type. Lagos is evoked not with exoticism or nostalgia, but as part of the fabric of some of the characters’ lives, and the events that took place there years before gradually come into focus in explosive ways. The deft weaving of the various story strands works really well, and I found myself reading faster and faster as the novel builds to its dramatic conclusion. There is so much to delight in here, and I can’t wait to read more by this talented author. I highly recommend getting your hands on this stunning debut.

Wahala by Nikki May is published by Doubleday and is available to purchase here.

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