Metamorphosis is the word I would use to summarise this collection, the second one from Irenosen Okojie. Everything is poised to become something else, to be shifted under the imaginative eye of an author who isn’t afraid to stretch our conception of reality and pull it into new shapes. Her language is full of unusual simile, revealing how the ordinary world is steeped in myth and fairytale.
There is something of Angela Carter in the transformations, in the interest in circus, witches, wolves, belief and desire. Monks carry living saints’ tongues in their pockets, waiting to pay for their sins with the hammer and nails of religious fervour. Women form themselves from water, from clams to tempt men, or contort themselves to stay alive. Children and love are always one step away from possible destruction. Nothing feels certain or stable, but the possibility of flux. Nudibranch is almost a philosophical tract on the mutability of life.
Sometimes stories settle in a present that opens into the surreal. Sometimes we slip into a near distant future where pain can be measured or stillborns reawakened as cyborg babies unable to grow and fed on pesticides. Peppered with hard scientific fact, the world of Nudibranch rips open new eyes for its readers. Nudibranch is exciting, fresh, angry, vivid, imaginative and routed to the stories of our past in ways that sometimes baffle but always delight. If you haven’t read it, just follow Ben Okri’s advice on Irenosen Okojie: ‘Read her for the risk, for the heart, for the imagination.’ Go on, you can still get it in time for Christmas.
I’ll be reviewing Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid next.