Thursday, 9 April 2020

Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

As Irenosen Okojie explains in the opening to the titular story in this, her second short story collection, a nudibranch is “a soft-bodied, marine Gastropod mollusc, which shed their shells after their larval stage ... known for their often extraordinary colours and striking forms.” It’s a fair enough description of these often mind-bending stories that explore humans at their most vulnerable.

Okojie has said that she was inspired by Nigerian oral story telling tradition – by memories of her grandmother telling stories that were often surreal, always with a moral. The stories may be rooted in that tradition but they are both modern and global. Her settings range from London to Martinique, Llanberis to Mozambique, via Berlin, Japan and Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

The subjects are equally varied. A paintballing weekend becomes the scene of a revenge tragedy. A homeless Japanese man searches for his lost lover. A hip-hop artist recovering from a nervous breakdown finds temporary solace with a trans woman called Dee-light ...

Yet such one-line descriptions fail to give any true sense of these stories, which spool out each time in unexpected directions – surreal often violent, full of images of flesh being devoured, of body parts functioning autonomously.

These are not stories that give up their meaning easily. You have to work at them, and even then the author’s intent may elude you. In that way, the experience is closer to walking through a gallery of expressionist paintings, where the symbolism remains always just beyond your grasp.

Longlisted for the 2020 Jhalak Prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie, The Beautiful Side of the Moon by Leye Adenle

Avoid If You Dislike: Surrealism and violence

Perfect Accompaniment: Pressed tongue

Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction, Surrealism

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