The longlist for 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction was released earlier this week, and, as you know, Naija no dey carry last.
Three Nigerian women writers were selected. Sorry, make that two female Nigerian writers and a non-binary transgender person, but I am not here to tell you about that.
I am here to tell you about a novel I read a few months ago which happens to be on that longlist. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.
It is a triumph for a Nigerian writer to see her debut novel longlisted for such a prestigious prize. Not only does she fit into the tradition of forebears like Chimamanda Adichie, Lola Shoneyin and Ayobami Adebayo, she has brought a totally new tendency to the table.
My Sister, The Serial Killer is a darkly humorous short novel exploring the relationship of two sisters, Korede and Ayoola. Told from the elder sister’s point of view, the novel tackles consanguinous love and rivalry, precisely the extent to which these affections and affectations can1 be stretched.
The novel enjoys a coterie of colourful characters like busybody co-workers, boisterous mothers, petulant aunts and charming prospective boyfriends, who so happen to be doctors.
Although set in Lagos; especially swanky locales inhabited and frequented by the nouveau riche, Braithwaite’s gaze is not as interested in a sense of place as she is in exploring the faltering dynamics between the two sisters.
Korede, the older sister, a nurse, is protective of her sibling, a psychopath, with a knack for killing her boyfriends.
Korede is the dutiful accomplice who helps to cover up her sister’s crimes but her resolve is tested when Ayoola snatches Tade, a male doctor at her work whom Korede was crushing on.
Written in brisk prose, shorn of pretensions, this eloquent novel is written in short chapters reminiscent of dairy entries. Braithwaite shows skill in her handling of a grim subject by her ability to shine light on the humour in the dark.
The novel also relies on quick cinematic chops for its kinesis. The narrative branches into a neat sub-plot that uncannily feeds back into the major narrative.
Death, in My Sister, The Serial Killer, is denatured of its mortal consequences and the perfect setting for this is in a hospital where comatose patients defy grim statistics by waking up suddenly to disrupt possibilities.
Braithwaite’s novel gains a lot from deliberate and thinly-guised plots reminiscent of Nollywood flicks—and this novel will lend itself easily to film adaptations because it is written with the poise of a screenplay.
The only word that keeps returning to my mind is brisk. There is hardly any time the novel hesitates to meander in the beguiling comfort of prose.
Perhaps this is a disservice to the novel. The reader can be set on a path of exploring the beauty of Lagos land and soundscapes. Or the labyrinthine depths of the characters’ minds. In lieu of exploring these depths, we have a clutter of characters hardly more dignified than enduring stereotypes.
However, if I had an opportunity to ask the author one question, it will be this: what do your characters have against music?