Man Booker Challenge 2015: The Fishermen
So, in keeping with tradition (yes, four years totally counts as a tradition!), I failed to read all six shortlisted books before the announcement of the (very well-deserved) winner this year. However, never one to quit, I’m still going to read and review the two books I have left!
The last one may be a little delayed as I’m still on a waiting list for it at the library, but in the meantime, here’s book five from the shortlist: The Fishermen, Chigozie Obioma.
The Fishermen is set in a small town in Nigeria in the mid-1990s. Four brothers, the youngest is nine, use their strict father’s absence from home to go fishing in a forbidden river and encounter a dangerous local madman, Abulu, whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the very core of their close-knit family.
He predicts that one of the brothers – a fisherman – will kill another. This evil prophecy of violence causes a deep rift between the brothers and starts to break the deep fraternal bonds, unleashing a tragic chain of events.
Told by shy nine-year-old Benjamin, The Fishermen combines classic African storytelling with contemporary fiction, and illuminates Nigeria in all its historical, political and cultural complexity.
I really, really wanted to like this book. And there is a lot to like about it. It is a great concept, well-told – a prophecy by a madman who may or may not actually have the gift of foresight gradually eats away at the brothers and tears them apart, possibly becoming self-fulfilling in the process. The writing is wonderfully lyrical and descriptive, giving a real sense of place and of character. The plot is skillfully tied in with the political machinations of Nigeria in the 1990s, as seen through the eyes of 9 year old Benjamin. It was also great to see a Nigerian author on the shortlist – I’ve been very impressed with the diversity of the shortlist this year.
But. As much as I wanted to like this book, and as much as I could see how strong and well-written it was, it just didn’t grab me. I feel like part of this is down to having a child narrator: although it’s told in past tense by the now-adult Benjamin, the narrative voice is still very much that of a child, which I found made it sometimes frustratingly simplistic. It’s also very uneven: the first half of the book ticks along at a brisk pace as the brothers hurtle inevitably towards tragedy, but the second half of the book seems to lose its way somewhat.
I’m not writing this review to put others off reading this book: although it wasn’t my cup of tea, I am certain there will be others who will absolutely love it. I do think that, critically speaking, this is a very strong book, and certainly earned its place on the shortlist. It just wasn’t for me.