***This review has been written by one of The Book Buff's favorite writers, Jenn. I look forward to more of her reviews, she is so talented!***
Some White English Women I've Almost Known is a collection of short stories and poems illustrating preconceived notions, stereotypes and futility in the modern world, from the perspective of a Nigerian man striving for acceptance. The stories span both the world and time, outlining the difficulties one encounters in attempting to achieve personal satisfaction and discover approval. We are bombarded with tales of stereotypes, loss, sacrifice and difficult truisms most people would find impossible to sustain. The stories form a tale, a tale of a man, a tale of mankind, and mostly, a tale of Nigerian men, that they themselves become lost in, and reluctantly learn they are unable to differentiate themselves from the masses.
I like to consider myself a fan of art, in all of its various forms, from painting and drawings to music, movies, animation, sculpture, architecture, and of course, the written word. However, in each of my encounters with art of any kind, I have become particularly aware of artistic intent versus the audience's reaction. It is true that not everyone is a fan of Picasso's. However, few can argue the brilliance of his work, the genius, the ingenuity, uniqueness, and passion. On the other hand, there are some people who consider a toddler's marking of the wall with a magic marker, just as honest a piece of work as that of Picasso. While some viewers have a horrific reaction to both Picasso's work, and that of the toddler (say this child's mother), few would view their work as being in the same league with the other. To me, comparing the work of Mogbolahan Koya-Oyagbola's Some White English Women I've Almost Known, to that of say the work of Charles Dickens, or even Frank McCourt, is saying a child's rendering of multiple lines drawn on a wall in haste with an untrained hand, is just as impressive as any of Picasso's work.
I found this book to be one of the most difficult I have ever attempted read. I've made my way through the Canterbury Tales, The Iliad, much of Shakespeare's work in the traditional Old English, and yet, I loathed picking this book up and forcing myself to trudge on. It's not that the stories were terrible per say, it was the way they were told. It was difficult, at best, to keep track of just who we were reading about, and I have pondered for some time, the best way to explain the narration, This, is the best I can come up with; at times the story is told by a man, listening to another man tell a story in the third person, with the first person perspective removed. Yes. I do realize that makes very little, if any sense, but that is the most accurate description I can give. From there, there are various points of narration that you flow into another character's perspective without any introduction to them, and without even being aware until you "switch back" to another character, and realize at some point, you must have been looking at life through another's eyes. For example at one point, a character is named as "A---", and not ten pages later, that same character is referred to as "Ade".
Trying to keep up with what time period you are in, and who's life you are witnessing is torturous. There is very little descriptive analysis of the location (one as opposed to another), time period, season, etc. The most descriptive narration is reserved for the sexual content which is vivid, redundant, and extant throughout. Unfortunately, you can't even determine what character you are witnessing by the names of the women, as they tend to overlap as well. To give you an example of the absurdity and convoluted narration, I will use an excerpt from the work:
"Within the feverish delusion of sleep deprivation, his features blurred, his out line diminished until somewhere along the trajectory of his storytelling he morphed into me and I into him. He therefore sat listening to myself speak, or was that me listening to himself speak?"
And that, unfortunately, is the frustration with this work. As I mention at the onset of this review, there are powerful ideas touched upon, such as stereotype and sacrifice, but I find that much of the work is hypocritical as the author tries to shed light on the racism that remains in this world, and he winds up objectifying women, and showing them to be nothing more than all of the worst stereotypes attributed to them. The adult content and lack of structure made this an extremely frustrating read. The author even inserts various, somewhat unrelated poems throughout, which cause even more confusion, and left me with an even more sour taste for this collection of short stories. I would rate this a 5, Don't Even Bother. Save yourself the aggravation, and use the time to read something--anything--else.
Do you agree with my review? Do you think I'm totally off base? Either way I'd love to hear from you, be sure to leave a comment and tell me how you feel!
If this book were a movie it would be rated a hard R. For explicit sexual content and strong language throughout.
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