Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought: Following on from her Betty Trask winning debut novel, Butterfly Fish, Speak Gigantular is Irenosen Okojie’s first collection of short stories. And it is almost certainly not like any other short story collection you have ever read.

Okojie’s writing rarely stays long in the recognisable world of the five senses. In these stories, emotions take on physical form. Loneliness becomes a pet (I pictured it as something like a bearded dragon). The hurt and anger of the deserted wife morphs into a humunculus whom she alternately pets and torments.

Some stories – like ‘Nadine’, which deals with the disappearance of a young girl with Down Syndrome – are relatively straightforward tales. Others, like ‘Animal Parts,’ about a community turning against a child who grows a tail, are clearly allegorical. ‘Fractures’ and ‘Jody’ feature characters who are (probably) aliens. But then there are stories so profoundly surreal it would take several readings just to grasp at the coattails of their meaning.

The characters in these stores are dislocated, alienated, isolated. We meet a Robin Hood bank robber in a canary yellow chicken costume, a foot fetishist, twin survivors of childhood trauma, a drug addict whose deterioration is captured, Dorian Gray-like, in thumbnail photographs. Oddly, one of the most playful stories deals with suicides trapped in the tunnels of the London Underground.

These are deliberately unsettling tales. Reading them is like walking through one of those trick rooms whose crooked walls make you think the floor is unstable.

Okojie’s range is formidable and her imagination extraordinary. Speak Gigantular has, not surprisingly, been shortlisted for the inaugural Jhalak Prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: An Unreliable Guide to London (ed. Kit Caless); Glue Ponys by Chris Wilson; Love Across a Broken Map by the Whole Kahani

Avoid If You Dislike: Surrealism

Perfect Accompaniment: Guinness Punch Cake (for Nadine) plus a strong cocktail of your choice

Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories

Available on Amazon

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