‘I bet you didn’t know that bleach masks the smell of blood’.
What an explosive opening to a novel. My partner had picked this up when we were in a bookshop collecting an order. ‘You have to buy this’ he said ‘it’s right up your street’. That man knows me so well! This is a black hearted comic novel, the type you laugh at but feel as if you shouldn’t. The heroine is smart, feisty and fiercely loyal. The action moves at a breakneck pace. It’s whip smart, sarcastic and totally unique. I can’t believe it took me so long to find it.
Korede is eating dinner when she receives a panicked call from her sister Ayoola. She was on a date with a poet called Femi, but now she’s asking her sister to come to his house. ‘Korede, I killed him’ she admits in the opening sentence. Korede’s reply tells us everything we need to know about this relationship.
‘I had hoped i would never hear those words again’.
In a split second we know that Ayoola has killed before and Korede, the big sister, has cleaned away the evidence. It’s not long before Korede is using her cleaning skills to tidy away Ayoola’s latest mistake. The girls live in Nigeria with their mother and one house maid. Korede is a nurse at the local hospital and Ayoola is a fashion designer who uses Instagram to sell her designs and runs them up on a sewing machine in her bedroom at home. Korede tells us they look very alike, down to the same beauty spot on the top lip. Yet somehow, Ayoola’s features have come together to create something harmonious and desirable. She has curves and is altogether the perfect example of beauty. Whereas Korede is tall and slim like a pencil. She has no curves and for some reason her features are not as appealing. We soon see that Ayoola is very aware of her charms and uses them to get what she wants. Even if that means treading over someone else to get it. Even if that someone else is her sister.
For a long time Korede has secretly been in love with Tade, a doctor within the hospital she works at. They are friends and he finds her indispensable as a work colleague. Korede feels they have a special connection and hopes that one day it will grow into something more. One day Ayoola turns up at the hospital to take Korede to lunch, and as soon as she has seen Tade she turns on the charm. Korede has done everything to keep them apart, but hopes that Tade’s integrity and intelligence will help him see past the surface. Sadly, Tade proves himself to be like every other man. Once she sees them together Korede knows all is lost and within hours he has sent a gift of orchids to express his interest. Ayoola tells him she prefers roses and within hours a second bouquet arrives. Korede looks on with her heart breaking. The only person she can talk to, honestly, is the one who can’t answer her. A patient in a coma has been Korede’s priest and she’s sat by his bedside confessing to everything, including the fear that Ayoola could kill Tade.
Korede gives us some background on the girl’s father and his abusive behaviour: beating Ayoola; trying to gain business advantages by giving his daughters to chiefs; bringing other women back to the family home and beating their mother. Their mother is largely passive, but Korede is in no doubt who the favourite daughter is. If Ayoola were to kill her friend Tade, it would still be Korede’s fault for introducing them. Korede jokes about this, but there is hurt and resentment underneath the gallows humour. Mum would never believe her precious baby girl is a killer. All of this tension builds beautifully. The short chapters speed the story along and my heart was racing, wondering what would happen to expose Ayoola’s murderous ways. How far will Korede go to save Tade? Or will she naturally choose covering up for her sister instead?
I read this brilliant novel in an afternoon and evening. It does race along at a cracking pace and it’s very hard to put it aside without reading one more chapter. I felt so sad for Korede that she isn’t valued by her parents and she constantly feels like the inferior sister. When she loses Tade to her sister my heart broke for her. Although what I really wanted was for her to find someone who cared only about her, who she could form a relationship with based on honesty. Although that could only happen if she is taken away from her family or she chooses to let the law catch up with her sister. I did find myself laughing and smiling inappropriately, mainly at Korede’s narrative voice and her sardonic turn of phrase. There were parts that shocked me, because a character behaved differently to how I expected. I found myself hating Ayoola, not because she was a murderer, but because she was so narcissistic. She expected her sister to continue covering up her crimes, but also disrespected her by pursuing Tade in front of her. The ending didn’t disappoint and actually found myself rooting for the girls not to get caught! A brilliantly transgressive and entertaining novel.