Nudibranch

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 7 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

Okojie's novel falls under the magical realism genre; the imagery is strong and the lack of narrative boundaries is palpable. The defamiliarization of the familiar is definitely one of the aspects that gripped my attention, along with the emphasis on the theme of tranformation, of embracing the "Other", of reinventing oneself through a new identity.
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This is an interesting collection of short stories, often in the realms of magic realism or symbolism. Throughout the collection, the motif of transformation dominates: a woman wakes up to find she has turned into a piece of liquorice; a group of friends gather for an evening of paintball only for it to turn into an horrific gore-fest; a woman earns her living by impersonating Grace Jones; people literally shed their outer skin and become something other...

Okojie is clearly a wonderful writer, her turn of phrase is deft and exact, and there are glimpses of some wonderful poetic prose; in one story a man falls for a trans woman, describing her as 'the curve of a kaleidoscope landed on a moon'. Wonderful. These are involving and elusive stories, where the idea of mutating becomes a metaphor for something wider in each case. And the stories are wide-reaching in their geographical setting, veering from London to Berlin to Africa and the US.

The reader is constantly left with unanswered questions, having to work out just what might be going on, typified by the final story where the main character had suffered a previous brain trauma and wonders if he might be undergoing another. Challenging and just slightly out of reach of your fingertips, this is a fascinating collection, with some stories being stronger and more engaging than the others. For all that, much as I enjoyed it, it just felt a little same-y, and after the first 'story' - a lyrical invocation that sets the tone for what is to come - it never quite hits those heights again. Definitely recommended, a strong 3.5 stars. 

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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The stories in this book were poetic, strange, otherwordly and haunting. 
It's rare to read something so unusually vivid, but that makes the stories linger and stay with you for a while after you've read them.
I thoroughly enjoyed. I would read this again as well as being open to reading other works by Okojie. I would definitely recommend.
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A wonderful collection of short stories, the characters cover a wide range of personalities  and situations, each story feels very different from the next m the world building, characterisation is just magical, she has such a unique and beautiful writing style, it’s enthralling and captivating to go with the flow of the stories. If you’re looking for something different, original, magical and truly innovative read these stories 

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion
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One thing you have to say regarding Irenosen Okojie's work is that it displays imagination and innovation. Magical realism may be the appropriate term to use but other words such as surrealist, absurdist, fantasy and horror also immediately come to mind. But perhaps the word to be used above all else is experimental and with Okojie you enter a world without defined boundaries or laid down set rules. 

The stories are set around the world and indeed you enter a world that is mostly recognisable and familiar for instance I know East Street, Barking Market but then this setting is superimposed with something outside one's world and reason. (in this case time travelling monks from the nearby abbey that closed in 1539). Portals into other worlds, mythical creatures and a fair bit of cannibalism will be encountered. Like most collections some stories are more accessible and interesting than others but the overall effect will have the reader slightly discomforted and perhaps even mesmerised. If you are looking for something different then you could do far worse then try this short story collection.
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A wonderful collection of stories - different to each other but all dazzling. this is the first I've read Okojie but it won't be the last; if Nudibranch is anything to go by, she will have a long and fruitful career ahead of her and I can't wait to read everything she writes.
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When I was a teenager, I was absorbed by A.S. Byatt's 'The Stone Woman', about a woman who is gradually turning into stone. Much more recently, Sarah Hall's memorable 'Mrs Fox' told the story of a woman who turns into a fox, although from the point of view of her husband. Therefore, the premise of the first full-length story in Nudibranch, Irenosen Okojie's new short story collection 'Kookaburra Sweet' - which is about a woman who turns into liquorice - wasn't in itself off-putting. I sometimes think that I don't like 'magical realism', but, even putting aside the problematic ways in which that term has started to be used so broadly, I'm not sure that's true; I do like magical realism when it's done well. Unfortunately, this is a tremendously difficult thing to do, and I don't think most of the stories that I read from this collection pull it off.

For me, 'magical realism' in its broad sense is distinguished from speculative or science fiction, or even from horror, by its lack of boundaries. So, in speculative fiction, strange things might happen but they tend to have a rational explanation, even if it's impossible; even in horror or ghost stories, there are certain rules that govern the monster's behaviour ('don't stay in the old house overnight'). Magical realism, it seems to me, doesn't really deal in rules or explanations, because it's trying to convey reality in a different way. However, for this to work for me, the stories need to feel psychologically real, and that was what was lacking throughout much of the first half of this collection. Byatt's 'The Stone Woman' made such an impression on me because of the horror the central character feels when she realises she's turning to stone. In contrast, Kara, the woman who turns to liquorice, doesn't seem too bothered; after her fingers almost melt under the hot water from her taps, she just goes back to what she was thinking about before: 'Sydney had been a disaster. She was broken by it. Almost.' While I understand that the story isn't meant to be read literally, this weird mix of realism and the magical didn't work for me.

Part of this is due to Okojie's writing. I read her first collection, Speak Gigantular, when it first came out and remember very little about it other than that it felt under-edited. Much of her writing here also has that first-draft feeling; there are wonderful sentences, but then others that just aren't very good. Often the similes are just too complicated, as in the opening to 'Grace Jones': '

'Once the stray parts of a singed scene had found their way into the bedroom, onyx edges gleaming and the figures without memories had lost their molten heads to the coming morning... the phone rang, shrill, invasive, demanding. Still on the floor, the wood cold against her skin, she crawled to the receiver tentatively, as if her limbs were tethered to a thread on the earth's equator, the thread bending and collapsing into the different stages of her life.'

Certain images reoccur in this collection - body parts turn up in unexpected places, things melt, people perform rituals - but there doesn't seem to be much purpose to it. Some stories conjure up fascinating worlds but then don't make much use of them, such as 'Filamo', set in an otherworldly monastery, and 'Saudade Minus One (S - 1 = )', which looks at a future in which children are malfunctioning. The one story of those I read which worked for me was 'Point and Shrill'; Okojie's writing is much more restrained, and it allows the eeriness of the story to take centre stage as it moves from naturalism into horror.

I read about half of these stories, but then concluded that this collection wasn't for me. It reminds me most strongly of a less accomplished version of Carmen Maria Machado's Her Body and Other Parties, so if that's your sort of thing, this might work better for you. 2.5 stars.
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Transformations, turning points and trajectories.

This short story collection is populated by Grace Jones impersonators, sea goddesses and time-hopping vagrants. Characters reinvent themselves (Grace Jones and Komza Bright Morning), they grapple with situations not of their making (the loss or absence of a child is a recurring theme), and they find themselves at turning points, recognising, too late, the trajectories they might have taken (Kookaburra Sweet and Cornutopia).

The collection opens with the incantatory Logarithm serving to place the reader in the world of Nudibranch. Here, the ordinary meets the fantastic, the familiar is defamiliarized and natural phenomena are celebrated. 

Okojie’s writing is multifaceted: earthy, baroque, brutal and rhapsodic. She paints striking images which prize open the reader’s mind. The language is a marvellous symphony of sound and ideas. Her prose rewards careful reading.

Striking and extraordinary.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK, for the ARC.
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