Irenosen Okojie really ran away with magical realism on this one! A woman is turning into liquorice, perfume bottled petrol, tongues in pockets
If you want to escape… this is going to do it but you have to be prepared for some very bizarre left turns. Nudibranch demands a lot of your imagination and at times, suspension of reason. I was expecting that after reading her novel Butterfly Fish (which I loved, recommend) but these short stories were even wilder.
Among other things, the book explores metamorphisis (particularly for women), relationship dynamics and deep loss through a spectrum of dystopian worlds. Undoubtedly, Irenosen Okojie has an amazing talent for vibrantly conjuring up worlds too weird to dare dreaming of… repeatedly! No two stories in the collection are alike.
Grace Jones is a personal favourite. The first few pages initially baffled me but nearing the halfway point, pieces flew together beautifully. What the inspiration was, who the the draughtsman might be, the appeal in impersonating the icon. So skilfully personalising a story that became easily generalised in the news. Animating PTSD into the reader’s understanding. You wonder if it could pass as an origin story for an arsonist even. I still have some questions. It’s a story I will definitely be coming back to, I can see why it has been nominated for The Caine Short Story prize. Brilliant.
Nudibranch demands a lot of your imagination and at times, suspension of reason
There were other captivating standouts like Nudibranch, Komza Bright Morning (loved the cultural references and seeming purity of the relationship between an unlikely couple), Cornutopia, Kookaburra Sweet, Daishuku. Most of the book actually. Also a few I didn’t do too well with, as typical with short story collections. One thing about this book is that it demands your full attention. It is pretty unpredictable and If you look away too long, you will get lost (maybe just me). Some things did go over my head. It was interesting listening to what Okojie had to say on her thought process writing this
In some stories, it feels like Irenosen Okojie is trying to distort a world I know very well, Forest Hill, East Dulwich, London Bridge, Elephant and Castle – creating surreal, dystopian narratives around them. Other times, there is no attempt to be of this world. Consistent with Butterfly Fish, even at the bleakest moments, Okojie can turn a phrase so lyrically, it seems romantic- but it’s really far from it! I need to start underlining sentences in my books again.
It’s been extraordinary reading something so surreal and far from reality right now! Reality is REAL right now. 2020 is a wild one
Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie Published by Dialogue Books 2019