”As a writer, you read all books – good and bad. You learn what works from the good ones. You know the pits to avoid from the bad ‘uns.” – Stephen King (paraphrase)
First, in my opinion, there are no bad books. Badly written ones, maybe. There are books poorly crafted, books with a plot that has been fleshed in exactly the same manner a thousand times, books with grammar so poor you’d think they jumped from first draft to printing press. But there are no bad books. You, of course, are welcome to disagree.
But that quote did factor into my decision not to read Imagine This by Sade Adeniran as I thumbed through the first pages.
“It’s a diary?”
My host looked up and shook his head. “Written like one,” he said, and I knew it never would make my reading list. No amount of persuasion, not even having the novel in proximity for two weeks could change that.
So, one night, when I walked in and spotted the book in a closet, the you-should-read-all-books guy in me said, “You are reading that book.” Sixteen hours on (plus sleeping and eating and tackling a few chores), I closed the last page and sighed; an interesting read. Here goes the review.
I learned this week that reviews are intellectual and emotional. The intellectual considers the structure – grammar, flow, pace, setting, redundancies, cartoonist characters… The emotional delves into the emotions. Hence, I’d be dividing this in two parts.
The best worst thing that could befall a writer is… not writers’ block. It is having to develop a novel through the lenses of one character, that is, one point of view. The author not only did it well, she made it enjoyable. There were instances where I longed to peek at the mind of another character – Lola’s father mostly – but the denial is why people read fiction. They want something. They don’t get it, and neither does the hero – Lola.
Lola starts the book at nine, ends at nineteen. She’s the typical I-was-born-in-England-but-returned-home-due-to-some-unpleasant-situations girl, save she doesn’t live with her father on arrival. She’s sent to fourth-finger-related relatives (uncles and aunts from my mother’s brother’s family). She starts the journey with a father and brother and an absconded mother and ends with no father, no brother, and a mother she speaks to in the last chapter. Amazing story. Plot, pace, style, voice, all awesome. I got reminded of some words – asinine, affable, sagacious, antepenultimate – because the hero had to learn new words. Maybe a few cliched events, but heck, there’s nothing new under the fireball that lights the day.
I have a few issues, however. There are a bit too many deaths, the type allowed in thrillers and horrors but not Nigerian literature – except there’s a war, which wasn’t recorded. Two, as a result of one of the deaths, twelve or fourteen year old Lola fasts forty days and nights, drinking water for the first 23 or so days. Who does that? It isn’t impossible, yeah, but these are spiritual things, not what you do because you want your bro resurrected. And she did pull through. And she did get her wish.
I’m not saying it’s unrealistic – emotions do get the better of us, but then, hmm…
Now, my name is Michael. To be clearer, I’m a Christian. So, when I began to read serious fiction, I steered clear of anything not Christian fiction – Nigerian lit, genre fiction, cross-genre fiction, classics. Only John Grisham squeezed himself to my reading list, and I jumped over every sentence that started with ‘He smoke a pack of Marlboro’ and ‘The beach was warm and swarmed with bikini-clad women’.
Naturally, Nigerian/African lit was the last thing I opened up to. This is why: they have a way of leaving me cracked up. Fiction is supposed to answer questions, yes, but also give hope, joy, gratitude, excitement, encouragement, relief, maybe a little sadness. But if everytime you do something, you feel like you’re at the edge of a cliff and all you see are tracks of tears and you can’t just resist shedding them, you should be careful.
It didn’t catch me as a surprise when I experienced the same emotions when I finished Imagine This. The character felt like me, too much like me, and she wasn’t exactly happy throughout the story.
This got me the most – she let her boyfriend explore her for the first time the night before she broke up with him. Twas bad. Looking back, I see it was a literary pun, not to the girl’s life alone, but to the whole script. She gave up what she treasured most and got what she desired the most, albeit in totally different ways.
Got me shaking my head pitifully.
But that’s it. I’m done. I’m reading more genre fiction in the coming weeks. Now I can go back to The War is Over by Andrew Wommack and be my good self. Till we exchange again, keep reading. And yeah, there’s an excerpt:
11th August 1979
Ronke and I got into a fight and I broke a bottle of ice water on her head. There was blood and water everywhere and Father and her mother have taken her to the hospital. I’ve locked myself in the room… (Page 96.)