Emecheta’s In The Ditch is the first in a line of brilliant titles by the author 

It’s hard to know where to begin with this one! With every page turned, I became more convinced that everyone should read it. At a concise 128 pages, there is no reason not to! If you are even slightly interested in social welfare in the UK and the African immigrant experience, I would recommend it.

Based on Emecheta’s personal history, In The Ditch is inspired by her columns written for the New Statesman. The novel is an account of Adah’s experience as a newly arrived Nigerian immigrant in London. She is a hard working single mother of five with determined ambitions of becoming a writer. Adah finds herself  ‘In The Ditch’ – a dreary monstrosity of a council estate designed to house working class ‘problem families’.  As the story progresses, you realise that The Ditch is not only a nickname for ‘Pussycat Mansions’, its also a metaphor for the mental confines imposed on residents.

No Words Wasted- a documentary of class and the social welfare system

In The Ditch is a case study of how a social and welfare system like the UK’s can dissolve ambition and self esteem regardless of initial intentions. Left with no alternatives and little childcare, Adah shrinks her dreams and work ethic just to survive in a system with no place for dreams or a commendable drive. If you work harder, your benefits are cut.  

There is no build up, Emecheta gets straight to the heart of the matter. Literally with every page turned, there was a point being made. She looks at class interactions via the relationship between Carol, a middle class social worker- and The Ditch’s inhabitants. She looks at tribes and solidarity within the working class, as well as how race plays into it. There is an obvious theme of community built by the women of Pussycat Mansions. Emecheta makes so many brilliant observations about working class women and the social system’s disregard for them. This is especially  apparent with regard to childcare, domestic abuse and sexual relationships in the novel.

A voice ahead of an era

That Emecheta was able to write so candidly about women, as a Nigerian immigrant in the 60s/70s, is completely ahead of its time. She was essentially highlighting feminist issues  before the mainstream gave us a platform to. The  whole of page 61 that is particularly striking, below is an excerpt.

….The dole people would want to know if the fancy man would help with the support of the woman and if so by how much , so that it could be deducted from their weekly dole. Of course, they usually drove the fancy man away. The women not only had to be poor, they had to be sex starved too

Although the narrative has a clear direction and doesn’t digress, In The Ditch doesn’t always feel like a story. It’s a documentary on how the welfare system operates through bureaucracy, negligent box ticking , rigid criteria and classism.  It eventually breaks poorer immigrants in the process of assimilation. 

I was lucky enough to find a second hand copy of the beautiful Allison and Busby edition!

If you can’t tell by now, I’m obviously on the path to becoming an Emecheta fan. I have Second Class Citizen to look forward to. I’ve been told it’s a heart breaking masterpiece and am very curious as to how it will best this!


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