lip lit: the spider king’s daughter, chibundu onunzo
The Spider King’s Daughter is the debut novel from Chibundu Onunzo – a young woman born in Nigeria in 1991.
It is a story about a rich girl named Abike living in Laos supported by the wealth of her father. She rides around poverty-stricken suburbs in a big, black jeep protecting her from those with less money and more desperation.
The tale does not center Abike alone, however. For every word about Abike, there is also one about an eighteen-year-old hawker, Runner-G, living in a hellhole and struggling to support his mother and sister after his father’s sudden death.
Abike meets this hawker on the road and they begin to form a relationship. It gets complicated when the hawker starts finding out that Abike’s father is less a businessman than he is criminal. With feelings for Abike conflicted by the loyalty to his family and street friends, he must decide where his loyalties lie. In one penultimate scene Abike too is faced by this decision. Disappointingly the most enjoyable part of the book is in that scene, where it’s all about to end.
The story reads with one section from Abike, followed by one from the Hawker. In a pattern repeated time and time again, there is occasional repetition as they both describe the same scene from their own viewpoints. The prose is beautiful – the slightest nuances between the thoughts of a boy and a girl are expertly portrayed.
Despite the well-delivered story that delivered incredibly evocative scenes, it wasn’t a book that I enjoyed reading. Dialogue is rarely attributed to particular characters and it relies primarily on the use of italics and roman font to distinguish between the viewpoints of Abike and the hawker. This is fine, but when additional characters come into play it is nothing short of confusing.
The enjoyment of the story was lost under the frustration of not knowing who was speaking for significant chunks of the novel. Eventually it makes sense but the obfuscation of the names of speakers added nothing to the storyline and seemed unnecessary. Without this added obstacle the story would have flowed and been more captivating.
Despite this hitch, the story is rich enough to be worth attention. It twists and turns continuously as each character holds different internal dialogues than the ones they act. Everyone in this novel seems to want to be somewhere else. The tension oozes out of every page and it is a tremendous achievement for a first time author.
It’s not the right book to take away on holiday because it isn’t a particularly relaxing read, but it will intrigue you. The style of prose is unique and daring and it has one hell of a first paragraph. For anyone who likes to be satisfied that they’ve conquered a book, this one is for you. The read is a challenge, but the story is worth the journey.
Allen & Unwin, $29.95