I am once again reminded that most people on goodreads know a good book when they read it, as much as most people on IMDB know a good movie when they see it. The worst thing ever written, Fifty Shades of Grey, has a rating of 3.64 on goodreads. Yet, The Spider King’s Daughter, a novel with an original plot, complex and engaging characters, and more than a satisfying style, has an average score of 3.31.
I am inclined to believe that most of the people were prejudiced because of the youth of the author and because of the fact that it was her first book ever. The Nigerian Chibundu Onuzo was only 17 when she started writing her first novel The Spider King’s Daughter, 18 – when she got an agent, 19 – when she signed with one of the most prominent British publishers Faber & Faber, and 21 when she was finally published, making her Faber & Faber’s youngest ever female author.
The novel starts off with a story as old as the earth – a rich girl falls for a poor boy. Abike Johnson is the beautiful 17-year-old daughter of one of the most powerful and rich men in Lagos, if not in Nigeria as well. She lives in an enormous mansion, has her own set of servants, spends a year’s salary on a single party and employes a fleet of loyal (or not so) followers, admirers and pure suck-ups. Ever since her childhood, when her father makes the driver kill her dog in front of her eyes, Abike has engaged in a game of Frustration with him – daughter and father are in a constant mental battle, attacking each other, challenging each other, torturing each other.
Runner G is on the other side of the social spectrum. Once a rich boy, after the death of his father he is forced to grow up too quickly. At the age of 18 Runner G works as a hawker, earning just enough money to ensure the survival of his mother, who is slowly losing her mind to grief, and of his sister, who is struggling with puberty.
The clash of two realities, over a simple ice-cream, soon develops into a romantic relationship, which is threatened by their different worlds and by their clashing pasts. At this point of the novel I was fooled to belief it would be yet another predictable story of inequality in love, in which, however, good overcomes common sense. Instead, though, Chibundo Onuzo decides to explore another, more unconventional road. As Abike and Runner G learn more about their respective families and history, they grow apart, even though some destructive force still attracts them to each other.
Chibundo Onuzo, despite her tender age, is able to create multidimensional personalities, torn between virtue and sin and between forgiveness and revenge. Both Abike and Runner G have all the prerequisites to turn into cliché characters – the rich girl who cares about more than money and appearances and the poor boy, who is able to see beyond her glamorous facade. Yet, neither of them is as innocent as it seems both displaying cruelty, jealousy and vindictiveness. Abike, playing the same games with my hawker as with her father, is so accustomed to getting what she wants, that she cannot imagine not impressing my hawker with the expensive party she throws. Runner G, on the other hand, is torn between his feelings towards Abike, and his determination to finish off what he started. The revelation of past secrets is explosive ane the finale is disturbing, yet believable and somewhat expected.
Chibundo Onuzo may be young, but she certainly possesses the voice of a grown and mature writer. Skillfully eluding the clichés that occupy the mind of every average 20-something girl, she portrays a complex world, where people may be innocent at one minute and cruel at the other, where attraction and hatred go hand in hand, and where not every bad deed is punished and not every good deed is rewarded. Probably, the young Onuzo shouldn’t be so cynical about the world so young. However, being a proud cynic, I have thoroughly enjoyed a young voice unblinded by conventional writing techniques, a voice that surely we will hear more from in the future. The structure of the novel itself alternates between the point-of-view of Abike and Runner G. The final chapters are a conversation between them, in their own voices, which makes it both challenging and rewarding to read and experience. A great book from a truly talented girl from Nigeria. I am glad young voices are given the opportunity to speak up, which gives hope for us all unpublished wanna-be writers.
Sometimes you want to possess someone so badly, you trick the person into believing you’re something you’re not. You almost trick yourself…In the end you can’t keep up the pretence. You will slip up and once the other person discovers it was a lie, it is over.