The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Just didn’t feel the love for this. I hate long accounts of dreams in novels and magical realism can be like reading an endless succession of dreams. I like the laws of gravity to hold fast in the novels I read so this started off at a big disadvantage where my reading preferences are concerned (One of the few novels I’ve ever failed to finish is Midnight’s Children).

In short, this is a novel about an African community struggling and failing to be born, the community a microcosm of Africa itself. As a subject this poses huge plot problems – the one step forward, two steps backwards dynamic – and I never felt Okri mastered this problem of momentum. The novel kept collapsing in on itself for me. My feeling was it could have been a fabulous 200 page novella but at 500 pages (prerequisite length to win the Booker prize!) it severely tested my patience. There was a sense throughout of groundhog day. The same things seemed to happen over and over again. The characters repeated themselves to the point where it felt to me the entire novel was running on the spot. It felt like continually picking up the Go To Jail Monopoly card – do not pass go, do not collect £200. I reckon you could skip 100 pages and it wouldn’t jolt you too noticeably out of the continuity of the narrative. I also found the writing self-indulgent at times.
I did however like the real world stuff. The spirit boy Azaro’s family life with his mother and father was great and there were some lovely moments of family solidarity and tenderness. And there’s a fresh and innocent vibrancy to Okri’s voice except when he gets carried away with his exotic metaphors and mystifications.


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