This week, I read ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and ‘The Girl with the Louding Voice’ by Abi Daré. Both are first novels by female Nigerian authors, and both highlight an issue that plagues modern Nigeria: the commodification of young women. Both authors tackle this issue in different ways, in different genres (crime thriller, and literary fiction, respectively), and in doing so create thought-provoking stories.
‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite
This story is told in the first-person, through short titled chapters, some of which are only a couple of lines long. The book is quite short overall, at only 242 pages. The shortness of the chapters works well to highlight the anxiety the narrator feels over the situation she finds herself in, and leave the narrator’s thoughts and feelings very much unsaid.
Narrator Korede is a middle-class Nigerian, living in Lagos; as such, she is fluent in English, although she sometimes uses vocabulary from the Yoruba language. Some of the other characters she encounters, such as a policeman and her colleagues, do not speak fluent English; this highlights the class differences between them, and the fact that educational opportunities, and therefore life opportunities, are not equal for all.
The novel begins in medias res, with Korede’s sister, Ayoola, stating that she’s killed another man and needs help. This is her third murder overall, technically making her a serial killer. The story then moves forwards chronologically, with flashbacks to the previous murders, and the sisters’ lives before the murders. The flashbacks allow the reader to gain an understanding of Ayoola’s behaviour, without it being questioned or analysed by the narrator herself. By the end of the novel, information has been revealed that allows the reader to make up their own mind.
Korede is presented as being a flawed character; sometimes her prejudices towards the less well-educated shine through, and she is naïve and desperate in her longing for her love interest. However, she is likable, and devoted to her sister, despite Ayoola’s behaviour. Although there is a strong bond between the sisters, in the sense that one frequently helps the other out of danger, they don’t talk much; this means both are isolated. In addition, the sisters’ mother is distant, numbing her own pain with medication.
The crime thriller genre works well to confront the themes in an unusual way, and in particular to create an intriguing ending that leaves the reader with several questions.
‘The Girl with the Louding Voice’ by Abi Daré
This story is also told in the first-person, through much longer chapters, which are numbered rather than named. The book is much longer overall, at 320 pages.
The book begins with a Prologue, consisting of a fact about poverty in Nigeria taken from ‘The Book of Nigerian Facts’. This prologue not only puts the story into context, but highlights the importance of education (another of its themes); more facts are used later, at the start of chapters, as the narrator uses the fact book to educate herself (the reader is also, of course, educated).
Narrator Adunni is 14 years old. She lives in poverty with her father and two brothers, her mother recently having died. She didn’t finish primary school, but is intelligent and inquisitive. The novel is narrated phonetically, illustrating her lack of education through her grammatical and vocabulary errors, and her innocent way of interpreting the world. Yoruba words are also used throughout.
The novel charts Adunni’s struggles to have an education, so that she can make something of herself, and to have a voice, so that she can speak up for herself and the millions of other young girls in Nigeria who find themselves in the same predicament. Along the way she encounters people who help, and people who hinder. She encounters violence, hatred, friendship, and love. Despite the many obstacles, she perseveres. The challenge in writing a story like this is, on one hand, to raise awareness of serious issues, but on the other, offer hope to readers. As such, the ending is improbable, but satisfying; Adunni is such a sweet, feisty, likeable character, you can’t help but root for her (and every young girl who experiences similar).