I was very wary before reading the book Odufa; mostly because the book had a massive PR machine driven majorly by the social media. There was a lot of talk about the book, including a hashtag, but nothing actually on its content. I observed it the way I observe food that is excellently decorated, because I often think the beautiful layering and arrangement of those kinds of cuisine is a ruse to distract from the fact that it just isn’t tasty. So I approached Odufa and its massive PR machine with such caution.
First of all, I am always excited to read a novel written by a Nigerian, when it’s not an immigration story, because it’s often like that is most of what we get around here, and at some point, it has become exhausting. Odufa however is a story of romance. It explores the themes of love, the patriarchal nature of our society, the failing systems of Nigeria, and the strength of family bonds in this part of the world. Very importantly, it mirrors how fragmented the soul of Nigeria is along ethnic lines.
I must praise Othuke Ominiabohs for his descriptive prowess. I think it is very important for a fiction writer to be as vivid as possible when telling a story. He took me to Kano, Lagos, Warri and all, and each city came alive on the page. You can almost hear the people on the streets like you are there with them, and this helped put the story into perspective. Odufa read a bit like Nothing Comes Close by Tolulope Popoola; not a very similar story line, but similar themes set in London, Lagos and Milton Keynes. But unlike Othuke, Ms. Popoola failed to take me to those places with her writing.
The story itself scared me, especially the very toxic and dangerous relationship between Anthony and Odufa. I don’t have much experience with relationships in Nigeria; I remember asking a few friends from my book club if this kind of relationship was actually possible. The narcissism between the two lead characters was shocking, their inconsistency in personalities worried me – especially Odufa’s – and at a point, I began to wonder if this was really a relationship or a dependency. Also, Odufa has a sordid past which affected nearly every choice she made in this book, so I was quite surprised that the past was not mentioned. However the writer clarified that a sequel will delve into this.
I am a feminist and I found this book very chauvinistic to the point of shock and bewilderment. The expectations Anthony had of Odufa were scary; she was practically his slave who waited on him and did all his bidding. I was also surprised at how Odufa automatically depended on Anthony financially – he who did not even have a job – simply because he was her lover. The tone of writing also came across as chauvinistic to me, and at a point, I began to wonder whether the writer was attempting to illustrate a typical relationship in these parts, or whether he actually believes some of these things, because as much as all (fiction) writers deny it, I believe their personal values often find their way into the stories they tell somewhat. I did ask Othuke about this point at a reading and he smartly evaded the question, so I shall never know.
As a character, Odufa did not intrigue me much, this in spite of the fact that she is the titular character of the book. Her brother, Imoh did. I have never seen someone want to be as invisible as possible as he did. Imoh only spoke when spoken to. He avoided people’s eyes. And he slipped away at the slightest opportunity. I believe Imoh has a story too. It’s almost like he carries a burden only him knows. And he feared people finding out if they came too close. When the writer announced that the book was going to be a trilogy, I was satisfied knowing that the deal with Imoh will be dealt with eventually, hopefully.
In all, Odufa read to me like a Nollywood movie; it was a mix of hits and misses, more misses than hits in fact. But it’s not a bad attempt for a debut novel. Lovers of poetry (which sadly I am not one of) will love the big role poetry played in the entire story, how it was expertly woven in and the part it played in the relationship between the two characters. I found parts of the story lumpy, like themes were brought up and dropped abruptly never to be revisited. But maybe the sequel will deal with some of them.
Othuke Ominiabohs has a very vivid mind and describes everything down to the tiniest detail, which sincerely helped make the story readable. Someone remarked that he was insecure about his writing, and that was the reason why he ensured he explained every tiny detail. I disagree. Othuke is a word artist, and as much as possible, he tried to paint a very strong picture with his words. He is also a very good storyteller, but in my opinion, a better storyteller than a writer, because those are two different things, even though they are often confused with one another.
The high point of this book to me was when Anthony said:
“Loneliness… I fear loneliness more than anything in this world.”
Loneliness is my biggest fear too. And when I read that line, I felt a tear slip out of my eye, which I quickly wiped off and continued reading.
I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy and I am sincerely hoping it won’t end like any cheesy romantic novel, as a lot of those abound.
Written by Franklyne Ikediasor
Franklyne Ikediasor is a brand executive by day and a writer by night. He thinks coffee makes every book interesting and he enjoys running, cycling and getting together with friends to share bouts of wine-fulled laughter. He tweets @FabulousGuy_