This is one of those novels that it’s hard to rate. It’s my first book by this author and coincidentally her debut novel from many years ago and some argue her best novel. And I understand why people will say this is a great work of literature. I think it’s pretty great too. The author’s wit, intelligence, humor, understanding of human nature and ability use all of those skills and talents to express the themes of the immigrant experience, identity, belonging, and the nebulous grey interconnectedness of our histories and experiences in an entertaining way is amazing.
That said, I personally found this a little overwritten for a novel. It is a novel but written in the editorial style of an essay. And while that style is initially humorous and engaging- as though you’re having a one-sided conversation with the author about the plot, after a while, it becomes a little tiresome and too precious and a little too much of a good thing. Like we don’t need as many explanations of cultural references, we don’t need as much analyses of the minutiae of the character’s behaviors, like sometimes, we, the reader, could have been left to do a little inference by ourselves, left to form our own opinions and ideas about the plot and characters without being talked a little to death around every single issue. So whilst the editorializing and essaying were impeccably done and filled with wit and humor, for a novel, it becomes a little tedious and makes the book drag more than necessary. This is my primary issue with this book.
My secondary issue is that I didn’t really begin to enjoy or relate with the book till the 2nd half of it when we began to get the story from Irie’s perspective. Throughout the first half of the book, anytime we get the perspective of the female characters who are entrenched in reality, the book really shines. Unfortunately, much of the first half of the book is mired in the particularly unengaging main characters of Samad and Archie and their insignificant, quixotic adventures. As for the ending, for a book that was written with so much analysis and writing, it felt a bit rushed and sudden and abrupt and not as thoroughly plumbed and combed over as the rest of the book.
I did like this book and I think its discussions of ethnic identity and nationalism and belonging and assimilation and family and generational disconnects are really important and thought-provoking. It’s an incredibly witty book, I just personally found it a little in need of being pared back.