Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ironically I always have my guard up when it comes to books which have rave reviews or those that have been nominated for various awards. I tend to find they can often be very indulgent and pompous but I wanted to give Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a chance. And boy am I glad I did. This is up there with one of the best novels I have ever read.
Americanah follows the lives of two Nigerian lovers as they seek to improve their lives by travelling to the western world. Ifemelu and Obinze dream of a better life, intelligent and academic, they strive to attend the western world’s top universities and reach their goals and escape the rule of a military run Nigeria.
Ifemelu’s auntie moves to the US which acts as a great stepping stone for Ifemelu to travel there. Once there she hopes that Obinze will follow her but things inevitably aren’t straightforward. Ifemelu uses a friend’s work visa to try and find a job but still struggles to find work. She soon sinks into a deep depression as she cannot even find a job as a waitress and here for the first time she realises that her race is the problem. Meanwhile Obinze is refused a visa into the US and the young lover’s relationship begins to fall apart as Ifemelu finds it easier to cut contact with anything which reminds her of home. Obinze sends her numerous emails over several months but she changes her email address and her phone number but you can’t help thinking that somehow this pair will end up together.
Obinze also encounters racism when he lives in the UK on a friend’s passport. He finds himself cleaning toilets and living on friends’ floors. He even tries to arrange a sham marriage to legally stay in the UK but moments before the ceremony is about to be conducted he is deported back to Nigeria
Meanwhile Ifemelu eventually begins to flourish in the US; she has several boyfriends, a good job and begins a high-profile blog on her race. She has a wide circle of friends but America’s views on race begin to affect her and how she looks at her herself. After many years she returns back to her native Nigeria where she finally meets up with Obinze.
I relished this book. Yes it’s a big read and it took me nearly two weeks to finish but part of me thinks I wanted to read it for as long as possible. I love a narrative which charts a character’s development and offers the viewpoints of two different characters. At the heart of the book is a wonderfully real relationship but it’s the race debate which affected me the most. Still in the twenty-first century race is a huge deal in the western world when really it shouldn’t be. This is definitely a book which will stay with you and won’t let you go.
The Longest Fight – Emily Bullock
The Longest Fight is the compelling and heart-wrenching debut novel from Emily Bullock.
Set in post-war London, the novel centres on former boxer Jack Munday and his sister Pearl. Jack has always been down on his luck, a former boxer who became injured, he is hoping to turn his and Pearl’s lives around as a boxing manager. He believes his protégé Frank will bring him the fame and fortune he was destined for but there’s trouble brewing.
The novel flicks between Jack’s childhood and his current life. Through flashbacks we learn that Jack suffered abuse at the hands of his father throughout his childhood which has had a lasting effect on him. As part of a large family he couldn’t even seek solace in his mother who was tired and drawn from looking after the family and his brothers became mini versions of their father. It’s not until Jack meets Rosie that he is able to see life in a new and exciting light.
I have to say this was the narrative strand of the novel I loved most. Jack and Rosie are inseparable and their love for each other has no limits. However the unmarried pair’s relationship is tested when Rosie becomes pregnant. As the book is set during a time when this was considered shameful, Rosie moves into the house Jack shares with his mother and she takes it upon herself to bring up the young lovers’ child. We eventually learn who this baby is years later but because it’s so pivotal to the plot I won’t spoil the surprise!
The novel really took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and I really enjoyed it. Bullock’s characterisation is sublime and each character is wonderfully individual. The setting of the seedy and dark side of London added real grit to it. An astonishing debut from an author whose star – I am sure – is set to rise.
The Boat – Clara Salaman
The Boat is one of those novels which is utterly chilling and uncomfortable yet you can’t put it down until you have read the final page.
I received the book as one of my Christmas presents and if I’m completely honest it wasn’t top of my reading pile. However I was feeling a little down and the murky cover matched my mood at the time and I decided to give it a go…
Clem and Johnny are teenagers who fell madly in love when they were children. Both adventurous and shunning normality, the married couple decide to have a yearlong honeymoon sailing around Turkey.
They soon find themselves in trouble and believe they are saved when they hear the haunting singing of a woman. They find out she is called Annie and she invites them on her family’s boat. The young lovers meet her husband Frank and their daughter known affectionately as ‘Smudge’. For the first few days everything is idyllic, the sun beats down on them, they discuss the meaning of life and spend the evenings under the light of the stars. Clem and Johnny find the ability to be free and weightless when they are with Frank and Annie but it all takes a turn for the worst when feelings of lust and attraction boil over.
Things start to fall apart one evening when under the influence of alcohol the party play spin the bottle and decide to swap partners which results in Jonny having sex with Annie and Clem and Frank enjoying relations. Clem and Johnny’s relationship once felt invincible and pure and Jonny now struggles to recover from their antics.
But things are about to get a whole lot worse as Salaman hints of Frank’s unusual tendencies and the influence he has upon others. Annie admits to Johnny they are on the run from British authorities and he later finds out it’s due to Frank’s actions as a child abuser. Due to Clem’s lust and infatuation with Frank she refuses to believe Johnny. Frank dismisses Annie’s claims by saying they are on the run due to helping his wife to escape from a mental asylum. Struggling to see the truth from reality Johnny begs Clem to leave the boat but she refuses. Without ruining the ending, it’s completely heart breaking and all their lives will never be the same.
I wasn’t expecting the book to be as dark and twisted as it was. I think Salaman dealt with the controversial subject matter well and still presented a tragic and deeply sad novel. It has echoes of Alex Garland’s The Beach which I loved. It’s not for the faint-hearted but I would definitely recommend it.