This book is not a novel. And that is being forthright. But for the sake of this review, let’s pretend it is.
I should also let you know upfront, that nowhere in the book does the title appear, neither is any reference made to the house being up for sale. Not that it matters anyway, it is just worthy of note.
I like (Bros) E.C Osondu a lot, mostly because of Voice of America. It was one of the books that gave me permission to write in a certain less conventional way and his stories directly inspired the style I chose for one of the stories (Breadwinners) in my latest collection – The Sex Life of a Lagos Mad Woman. So when I heard that his first novel was out, I was eager to read it. You know what they say about an author’s first novel, right? I decided it would be the very first book I would write a voluntary review on.
I expected more.
Not that Uncle Osondu did not deliver. He always delivers fine prose. After all, he is a Caine Prize winner. For short stories.
And that is the main issue with this book.
Because he is brilliant with the short story form, he (maybe not deliberately) decided to use that approach to put this ‘novel’ together. What you get therefore, is each chapter being what you might look at as individual stories of different characters told by the same narrator. One of the chapters was even previously published as a short story. The stories appear unrelated and therefore the book doesn’t read like a novel from chapter to chapter. The only factors that connect them together are the big family house where we are told they all live and ‘Grandfather’ the wealthy, gun-wielding, no-nonsense old man who built the house, and accommodates all these people. And did I mention that this house is a very special house of great luck? “…Everything that is planted around the house multiples and bears so much fruit that the fruits weigh down the trees. Even the chickens and dogs and cats in that house multiply. Everything they sell, even water, sells out fast. It is a lucky house.”
Occasionally though, a few of the other characters are mentioned in separate stories (or chapters), and that’s it. Negligible mentions that would change absolutely nothing if removed. Only towards the later chapters do we begin to see a deliberate attempt to link the characters together with Grandfather showing up more often to settle disputes and people consulting ‘Tata the mirror’ to find answers to their puzzles. There is also another chapter on ‘Ibe’ (short for Ibegbunemkaotitojialimchi) where the author attempts a recap of sorts, mentioning most of the characters the reader had been introduced to and the events that took place in an around the house as it’s end draws near.
The other issue this narrative approach creates is that this young narrator, presented in the first person, is given the powers of the omniscient, eye-of-God, all knowing narrator, saying things and dishing out information without really letting us know how come he knows all these things. He even knows conversations that people in the neighbourhood have about this house and the happenings around it (without really having to attribute the dialogue or giving us any names or characters) and so the reader is left wondering and assuming how come he knows all these things.
There is also the issue of typos and errors which shouldn’t even be seen at this level. No-no. These mistakes would not even appear in some of the badly written eBooks self-published by up and coming writers online these days.
But I wouldn’t digress.
‘This House is Not For Sale’ opens with the story of how the house in question came to be and ends with how the house came to be no more. In between, there are 16 chapters, about 15 different characters including ‘Ndozo’ who is shamefully expelled for stealing money from the sales box, ‘Gramophone’ who cannot stand the sound of music except on his wedding day, ‘Currency’ who got rich by stealing old notes meant for the incinerator, ‘Baby’ who disappears just before she is to be married off to another woman, and ‘Ibe’ who develops appendicitis after eating sacrifice meant for the gods; all colourful and well developed characters who have lived in the Family House at one point or the other.
With about 182 pages, and a large readable font size, the book would most likely contain about 50,000 words, which is probably not a very long read depending on your reading speed. Still, this book is funny. Very funny, at times. But if you buy it hoping to read a long novel where you would follow the protagonist through a well thought out plot full of suspense and intrigue, well, sorry, this is not that book.
What you’ll get though, is a collection of short stories – as it were – beautifully written and (again,) quite funny to read.
In all, not the exceptionally brilliant, long awaited debut novel one would expect from a vastly experienced writer and teacher like (Bros) E.C, but that is not to say it is not a sparkling work either, especially if it had been presented for what it really is.
‘Seun Salami is the author of two short story collections and a novella. He tweets via @SeunWrites