First published back in April of 2014, US-born author Nnedi Okorafor’s novel ‘Lagoon’ is a blend of science-fiction and Nigerian culture – hailing back to the author’s Igbo heritage through an alien-arrival-on-Earth plot.

DLS Synopsis:
It all began on the 8th January 2010, where the ocean meets Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos.  A sonic boom sounded somewhere off the waters of Bar Beach, a reverberating boom which was heard by the entire Lagos population.  However, what almost went without a single witness was the ocean snatching up a woman and two men from the beach, in a huge fist of surging water.  Minutes later the three were returned to Bar Beach unharmed.  However, they did not return alone.  They would be accompanied by another.

Since the incident, the sea level by Lagos had continued to rise.  Lagos lagoon was filling up, and people’s homes, roads and the beaches were slowly becoming flooded.  Neither the military nor scientists had any answers for the cause of this perplexing series of events.

However, marine biologist, Adaora, had an idea of what was behind it all.  Adaora was one of the three to be taken into the sea the night it all started.  And now she was in the company of the one that came out of the sea with them.  The beautiful Nigerian looking woman she decided to name Ayodele.  For upon arriving the woman had no name.

Alongside Adaora to be dragged into the ocean and subsequently brought into the escalating maelstrom surrounding the arrival of this strange woman were two men she had never met before.  The first was the Ghanaian rapper, Anthony Dey Craze.  The second was a deeply-troubled solider named Agu who was now on the run after he stepped in when he saw a senior officer assaulting a young woman.  And in the blink of an eye the three Nigerians had been brought together to assist Ayodele with the message she brings.

For the arrival of Ayodele to the city of Lagos would prove to be a momentous turn in events.  Through her arrival, the woman would rip down the very fabric of the city.  She would look into the heart of Lagos and that of its people, and reveal their true faces.

Ayodele was the first of her kind to arrive.  Able to shape-shift to whatever form she wanted.  Able to read the souls of those she encountered.  Able to finally transform the corrupt decay within Lagos and bring about a better way of life.

Ayodele was not only new to Lagos, but she was new to our world.  Ayodele was an extra-terrestrial ambassador.  But not everyone would welcome their new visitors…

DLS Review:
Nnedi Okorafor’s ‘Lagoon’ is a strange blend of science-fiction and Nigerian culture.  In fact, the novel is so immersed in its African setting that the social context behind the tale drives a vast portion of the plot along.

I have to admit that I was very keen on reading this novel.  It’s not often that you come across a science-fiction tale written from a Nigerian perspective by someone with an ingrained understanding and knowledge of that area.  This alone has its own interest value – especially with the degree of local custom that is revealed within much of the novel.

Indeed, there’s much to learn from the novel in respect of Nigerian custom and dialect.  The book contains a five-page glossary of Nigerian words and phrases at the very back of the book to assist the reader with understanding the dialogue throughout the course of the tale.  In fact, the dialogue regularly jumps between English, Nigerian and Pidgin English – which can become a tad confusing and hard to follow without referencing back to the glossary for help.

Utilising a constantly roving perspective, the storyline as a whole is incredibly fluid, with the various characters each pushing the plot along with their own unique angle on how the tale will progress.  As nicely constructed as this may sound, Okorafor’s constantly-jumping narrative does little to add to the general ease of reading and at times it edges towards more of an erratic mess than anything else.

The characters themselves are all only relatively loosely defined, with characterisation often just a wisp of an idea.  Marine biologist Adaora is undoubtedly one of the very principal characters.  She has her own baggage (in the form of born-again-Christian nut-job husband Chris), with a failing marriage adding its own problems to the dilemma.  Throw in the world-renowned rapper Anthony Dey Craze who has plenty of unfulfilled potential, and a similarly weakly developed troubled solider, and you’ve got one hell of a mix of frustratingly badly realised characters.

At the heart of the tale is a science-fiction plot which attempts to showcase a ‘beauty-in-humanity’ type vibe, whilst propelling the culture and customs of Lagos (and Nigeria as a whole) into the veritable limelight.  Ambitious as it sounds, Okorafor does a pretty darn good job at illuminating life in Lagos.  And, with her own Igbo heritage, Okorafor is able to show this strangely alluring city and its people in a magnificently unclichéd fashion.

There’s a wealth of Nigerian mythology and ingrained cultural beliefs stitching the science-fiction-meets-Lagos plot.  It’s quite frankly a strange concoction which reaches out from the pages and makes you want to see more.  However, that alone isn’t enough to rescue what is ultimately a disjointed patchwork of a tale; with far too many ideas and angles fighting each other for attention.

The novel does end in a reasonably satisfying way, although you can’t help but feel a little removed from the events transpiring.  This is largely because of the wild gluing together of elements and twists that makeup the ‘extra-terrestrial influence’ storyline until that pivotal point is finally reached whereby the novel realises a trying-to-be-thought-provoking conclusion.

It’s a shame as there was an absolute abundance of potential in this incredibly imaginative tale.  For this reviewer at least, Okorafor simply failed in the delivery and development of said ideas.  As I said…this is a real shame.

The novel runs for a total of 306 pages which includes the aforementioned glossary of Nigerian words, phrases and Pidgin English terms, along with a four page Deleted Scene which acts as a surprisingly fitting epilogue to wrap the whole tale up with.

© DLS Reviews


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