08 September 2015

Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma has a captivating premise: four brothers are given a prophecy from a local madman that the eldest will die at the hands of one of his brothers.

The impact of this prophecy on each of the brothers and their family is the essence of the novel, and it held me spellbound the entire time.

Set in Nigeria in the 1990s, Obioma creates such a strong sense of place, and such a feeling of impending doom that you just have to keep on reading. The youngest of the brothers Ben is the narrator, and while I could sense a tragedy was imminent, it does raise the question about whether the madman can see the future or whether the brothers will bring about the prophecy themselves by believing it to be true.

The backdrop to the story of the brothers and their family is the political environment of Nigeria, and can be read as an allegory of what the British did to Nigeria.

The boys are raised on a concoction of Christianity and superstition and I loved the character of Ben's mother immensely. A fierce matriach, Ben sees her as a falconer: "the one who stood on the hills and watched, trying to stave off whatever ill she perceived was coming to her children." Page 95

The writing is terribly moving and the relationships between the brothers made my heart ache with joy and sorrow at different times in the book. Ben and his three older brothers are characters who will stay with me for a long time to come.

I want to include part of a description of the madman that appears on Page 222, just to demonstrate the power of the writing in The Fishermen:
"He reeked of sweat accumulated inside the dense growth of hair around his pubic regions and armpits. He smelt of rotten food, and unhealed wounds and pus, and of bodily fluids and wastes. He was redolent of rusting metals, putrefying matter, old clothes, ditched underwear he sometimes wore. He smelt, too, of leaves, creepers, decaying mangoes by the Omi-Ala, the sand of the riverbank, and even of the water itself. He had the smell of banana trees and guava trees, of the Harmattan dust, of trashed clothes in the large bin behind the tailor's shop, of leftover meat at the open abattoir in the town, of leftover things devoured by vultures, of used condoms from the La Room motel, of sewage water and filth, of semen from the ejaculations he'd spilled on himself every time he'd masturbated, of vaginal fluids, of dried mucus. But these were not all; he smelt of immaterial things. He smelt of the broken lives of others, and of the stillness in their souls. He smelt of unknown things, of strange elements, and of fearsome and forgotten things. He smelt of death."
This description gave me shivers, and I was completely transported by this literary novel with touches of magical realism. (Having been to Kenya a few years ago, the descriptions of their small town in Nigeria seemed so real to me, I just wanted to go there and hug Ben).

The Fishermen has been longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and I really hope it wins. It's definitely one of my Top 5 books for 2015, and I think I might have an author crush on Chigozie Obioma.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

Click here to read a FREE Extract, courtesy of BBC.

Would you like to comment?

  1. For the first time that I can remember, I had read NONE of the Booker long-listed books when they were announced. Which ones to read, then? It was overwhelming.

    So I'm glad to have this review, by someone whose taste I trust, to help me choose. The Fishermen is now on my TBR list. Thanks so much!

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words Debbie, and I really hope you like The Fishermen half as much as I did. I definitely know what you mean about the Booker long list though, often I haven't read any of them either. I also don't want my choice in books to be swayed by a prize, so often it can put me off reading a book because of the hype.

    Someone in the bookish world I trust in terms of reviews is Jen Campbell (author of Weird Things Customers say in Bookshops etc.) She's one of the Man Booker Vloggers and has been talking about the books longlisted on YouTube, which is interesting to watch even if you don't read any. She also loved The Fishermen.

    Let me know what you think when you get to it Debbie, hopefully I won't lose your trust :-)


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!