Butterfly Fish (Jacaranda, 2015) is primarily a story about Joy, a London-based photographer whose only friend is her eccentric elderly neighbour, Mrs. Harris. Then Joy’s mother dies unexpectedly, leaving her a bemusing inheritance, which includes Joy’s grandfather’s diary and a sculpture of a Benin brass head. A chain of perplexing events unfolds, leading Joy to dig into her past and that of her family in Nigeria, all the while struggling to cope with the aftermath of her mother’s sudden death.
The book opens with the image of an empty palm wine bottle rolling down a London street. It is an incongruous detail which nevertheless sets the scene for the atmosphere of mystery and magic that follows. It is also perhaps a nod to Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), often labelled the original African magical realist novel.
In Butterfly Fish, the elements of the magical are presented as something unreal, yet they are also a part of the ordinariness of experience and intrusions from the past. As such, Okojie’s lyrical style and the mixed trajectories of past and present stories question oppositions between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’, ‘magic’ and ‘ordinary’.
Towards the start of the book, the pivotal moments preceding Joy’s discovery of her mother’s dead body oscillate between the dull and surreal. The crass banality of Joy eating in front of the TV, ... Read Full Review