Book Review: Thicker than Water
August 14, 2017
Oyinkan Braithwaite’s latest is a fictional foray into the lives of the Abebe family; a posh Lagos family that appear to have everything going for them on the outside but are dysfunctional on the inside.
The story is told from Korede’s perspective, the eldest Abebe daughter, and through her we get to meet the other Abebes; Mrs. Abebe, widow of the deceased Mr. Abebe and Ayoola, Korede’s younger sister.
Thicker than Water basically revolves around Ayoola whose character coincidentally magnets attention from all the other characters she encounters in the novella. She has a psychopathic personality and is portrayed as a stone-cold man-killer. Otherwise, she’s a Barbie-brained brat who revels in the affections of an excessively doting mother Mrs. Abebe, in whose eyes she can do no wrong.
Korede, who narrates, suffers the stigma of being not just the first-born sister but the unattractive, first-born sister. As a result, her life rotates around her responsibilities to Ayoola as a big sister, as well as managing a separate existence away from her. This is a task Korede pursues diligently throughout the story and which ultimately leads to the main conflict in the book when her secret man crush, Tade, catches Ayoola’s fancy. Hence, she becomes torn between exposing Ayoola, to whom she’s bound by blood or protecting Tade, whom she secretly loves.
Coupled with the stigma of being the ugly sister, Korede has to also bear the burden of not only keeping Ayoola’s heinous killings secret but also cleaning up evidence after each episode. In the narrative, Korede is the proverbial mule who plays her role unflinchingly and without complaint. She is Ayoola’s living journal so to speak.
Overall, there are many positives about Ms. Braithwaite’s novella. For one, the character development is to a large extent efficient. The pacing and storytelling is impressive. Also, the use of different timelines/flashbacks is particularly effective in heightening the suspense at the right moments without being monotonous.
The use of chapter themes through titles is ingenious and will definitely make this book stand out for many readers. In addition, the figurative devices, dialogue, symbolism and metaphors employed throughout the story are largely endearing.
“Chichi will spread the news before I have finished telling it” is one such brilliant use of figurative grammar by Braithwaite, as well as the use of a melting ice cream in a later chapter to denote loss and hopelessness.
Though the book is about homicidal killings, through the use of Femi’s poetry, Oyinkan Braithwaite finds a way to introduce a bit of sunshine into the narrative to lessen the gloom. What’s more, the poetry is not limited to free verse and we get an unexpected poetic finish to the novella in the chapter simply themed, Five.
Towards the middle of the book in Birth, we also get a refreshingly sweet moment involving the three Abebe women
Also remarkable is how she dexterously flips her characters from victim to villain and back again without ruining the narrative. We get to see how Ayoola, the main antagonist is herself a victim of life and how growing up under a cruel father moulds both her and Korede into misopatrists.
Korede plays the role of a villain in that she abets her sister in her crimes and is given to fits of blind, destructive rage from time to time. Interestingly, the things which make Korede a villain are exactly the things about her that call out our sympathy.
However, perfection is sometimes an unattainable illusion and because of this, the novella has its fair share of shortcomings.
One of such is the deceased Mr. Abebe’s background, which is roughly sketched and does not adequately explain his family’s─ especially his daughters─ hatred of him. He is portrayed as a gross philanderer (perhaps a paedophile?) but his character isn’t well developed enough to be a convincing villain.
Another is Gboyega’s death, which feels rather hurried to advance the plot. This is summed up in the three lines Ayoola delivers when Korede asks about him.
“I called the police. They informed his family. They believed I was innocent.”
Coupled with this is the tenuous use of food poisoning to explain Gboyega’s demise. Convenient yet inefficient. Other details that may have been significant to the plot are also downplayed. For example, we never get to know the cause of Mr. Mukhtar’s condition despite knowing more personal details about his life.
Where the character development is excellent, location suffers throughout the story. Apart from knowing it takes place in Lagos, the reader is left to his or her devices where the hospital, the Abebe home and those of other characters like Tade and Femi are situated.
Perhaps a minor oversight, but on page 9 we see Korede giving Tade efo (vegetable), which he appears delighted to receive, something she later reveals to know he dislikes. Here, contradiction proves to be inconvenient.
On the whole, Thicker than Water is an enjoyable read and is potentially blockbuster material if adapted to the silver screen. It has the right amount of language, suspense and horror, which rather than being off-putting, spurs the reader further on into a thoroughly gripping tale.
Tomiwa Yussuf has a background in History/International studies. With a strong bias for fictional art of varying forms, he contributes to a couple of literary blogs and is an in-house editor at nantygreens.com. When he’s not writing, he pursues other interests like digital marketing, social work and sports.
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