Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Hodder & Stoughton, 293pp large format paperback, £13.99 cover price
£5.99 on Kindle (Jan 2016)
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
My international reading credentials are somewhat limited — in line with many UK fans, I suspect — but after reading Lagoon and being suitably impressed, I’m hoping to put more effort into seeking out other ‘foreign’ genre authors who, frankly, I’d normally pass over in blissful ignorance, whether they be African, Mexican, Spanish, or what have you. Shame on me.
Lagoon takes the question of what if and asks, reasonably enough, what if alien visitors landed in the beach city of Lagos, Nigeria? Well, like as not, this is the kind of thing that’ll follow, especially if that alien visitor happens to be an ambassador as well, and lands in the Lagoon nearby, happily communicating with the fishes and granting them various biological upgrades in an effort to make the sea a happier place for its inhabitants. Thus begins Lagoon as Ayodele, our alien visitor, arrives at the bottom of the ocean with a boom, the resulting tidal wave consuming three disparate characters and bringing them together in a fantasy-esque tale combining elements of myth, folklore, magic and just straight-up imaginative storytelling. The three characters are Adaora, a marine biologist who finally plucked up the courage to hit out at her bullying obsessive husband and was in the process of cooling off with a wander along the beach; Anthony Dey Craze, the world-famous African rapper who was out enjoying a post-concert stroll; and Agu, an outcast soldier who had just run away from his unit having refused to stand by in silence while his superior raped a civilian. Each of these characters has an unusual ability of their own, exaggerated and brought to the fore by Ayodele over the course of the story, but things don’t stop there…
There’s no shortage of imagination in this work and it does feel breathless at times. If I tell you the first chapter is written from the perspective of a swordfish, and that somewhere along the line there are chapters adopting a spider’s viewpoint as well as that of a bat, and there are also a couple of ‘witness chapters/statements’ that unfortunately do feel like an unnecessary adjunct to the rest of the story, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking this should be a confusing read. Au contrair, I say, ‘cos the only word I can think of to describe the writing is ‘refreshing’ — Nnedi’s voice is easy-going, gentle, and feels genuine. Indeed, there’s some Nigerian slang throughout (called Pidgin English) which proves a little jarring at first but doesn’t take long to get used to, helped immeasurably by the handy glossary of terms towards the back of the book.
The author even manages to get a chapter in there that switches perspective and seems to be written by the narrator herself talking directly to the reader — it is bizarre, but nonetheless makes for a quick read: I raced through this, which is testament to good writing I think, and again helped significantly by the short length of individual chapters.
In conclusion, I echo what Ursula K. Le Guin said about the author’s work: “there’s more vivid imagination in a page than in whole volumes of ordinary fantasy epics”. Agreed — a great read, and well worth seeking out.
* This review originally appeared on the British Fantasy Society (BFS) website here