This is one of those cases where the blurb for novel spoils said novel. Rather than giving us a broad-stroke summary of the story, the blurb reveals almost every plotline in the story, so while I was actually reading the novel myself, and I kept expecting something ‘new’ to happen, well, I ended up feeling rather underwhelmed. That is not to say that Dele Weds Destiny is not a good debut, I mean, I didn’t love it, but I recognise that the writing is competent, the dialogues are (for the most part) charged, and the setting is strongly rendered. Alas, the storyline just doesn’t offer much besides what is mentioned in the blurb. I can see this appealing to fans of Liane Moriarty or books like Nikki May’s Wahala, where a group of friends reunite as adults, with some of them being married, others having children or wanting children, and others still are career-focused…I was hoping for Tomi Obaro to add something new to this rather tired premise but the dynamic Funmi, Enitan, and Zainab, the three Nigerian women whose friendship is meant to be the core of the novel, is sadly fairly one-note. The narrative very much reminded me of my least favourite novel by Elif Shafak’s Three Daughters of Eve, which also presents us with an older woman looking back to her time at university where she (supposedly) became friends with two very different girls (one is more conservative, the other seems to embrace a more liberal lifestyle). In both books the girls don’t really strike me as real friends…
The first 40% of the narrative introduces us to former college friends Funmi, Enitan, and Zainab, who are now in their middle-age, as they reunite in Lagos to celebrate Funmi’s daughter’s wedding. As we follow Enitan and Zainab making their way to Funmi’s house, we are given an understanding of their current circumstances: Enitan, who is based in New York, and her husband Chalres, a white American, are getting divorced and their teenage daughter, Remi, now resents her, but not their father; Zainab’s has become a carer to her older husband Ahmed, after he suffered two strokes. Funmi seems to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and is not interested in asking her husband about his ‘shady’ business. Her daughter, Destiny, is by all appearances a devoted daughter, who is respectful of her elders and fulfilling the life her parents want her to. But Funmi wishes that she could have a more meaningful relationship with her, as Destiny seems to hold her at a distance.
The story in this first part is very slow going, and a bit too heavy on exposition.
The middle section of the novel takes us back to their crucial college days, where we are given an impression of 1980s Nigeria’s climate of social and political unease as well as a more detailed impression of the friends’ respective upbringing and social statuses. Now, I wanted to see the friendship evolve slowly, as they find themselves putting aside assumptions they may have made upon first meeting one another, or bond over shared commonalities…but the narrative kind of skips over that. Their friendship struck me as one of convenience, and to be honest, even putting that aside, their bond… was not that much of a friendship even. Funmi and Zainab are obviously at odds, and they seemed far more involved with their respective men than anything or anyone else. Enitan was the classic inoffensive go-between whose characterisation also ends up getting sidelined in favor of introducing us to Charles. The men themselves were forgettable, and I didn’t really care for them or their supposed feelings for our protagonists.
Anyway, I kept thinking that this ‘then’ section would unearth something more than what the summary had detailed but no, not really. So I was kind of frustrated by it having to occupy such a big chunk of the narrative, as it doesn’t reveal anything new or flesh out the characters either.
The final section takes us back to the present where the narrative obviously parallels the experiences of their children with their ones at college. I wouldn’t have minded the focus on mother/daughter dynamics if said daughters had been credible. Destiny is the dutiful daughter, who is prepared to give up her dreams to live the kind of life her parents want her to (marrying the ‘right’ man, getting the ‘right’ degree). Remi is the kind of simplistic teenage girl that I have sadly come across one too many times in adult/literary fiction. This teenage girl often blames her mother for her marriage troubles (in some cases even if the dad cheated on her or worse). She has this supposedly liberal mindset and cares about social issues but when she goes to a different country or enters a different community or comes across people more disadvantaged than she is she will reveal how ignorant she is when it comes to politics, history, etc. If she’s rich or spending time with rich people she will act all outraged by their having cleaners or whatnot but then she isn’t even capable of washing her own clothes or cleaning her room. If she blocks a toilet she will not think to unblock it herself but ask her mum for help…this girl inevitably has an eating disorder, or sometimes she self-harms because that’s what teenage girls do nowadays. I am just tired of reading about this kind of caricature of a teenage girl…Remi was embarrassingly childish and petty, the way she behaved towards her mother is so f*cking frustrating and I don’t understand why adult women portray teenage girls as so superficial and unlikable, whereas they will give other characters both flaws & virtues. Argh.
Also, I kept thinking that Dele and Destiny would play more of a role given that they are the ones mentioned in the title but they do not.
Anyway, Remi aside, the characters were okay. They weren’t particularly nuanced but then again given the Liane Moriarty-esque premise I was expecting in-depth character studies. But this book lacks the in-group tension and the gossipy atmosphere that make Moriarty’s books into such easily entertaining, sometimes even gripping, escapades. It’s, by all means, an okay debut novel. I just wanted more drama, more friendship, just more. I didn’t care for how the narrative incorporates plotlines including an abortion and a miscarriage, and treats these in a rushed and unsatisfying way…
Now for some positives: as I said, Obaro’s dialogues and setting were for the most part evocative, and I particularly enjoyed her insights into past & present Nigerian culture. I also appreciated that she doesn’t moralise or judge her main characters. They are not perfect, and sometimes they act or say things that are downright yikes, but, she never judges them for their choices & attitudes (to have casual sex, to wait to have sex until you are married, to find contentment in being a housewife, to be silly and romantic, to be studious and serious). She may poke fun at them, especially when they are being a bit hypocritical or whatever, but she’s playful, never cruel.
If you are interested in this I encourage you to read more positive reviews as this may as well be your next great read.
Also, whoever is responsible for that summary…maybe next time don’t give all of the book away.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
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