Butterfly Fish is Irenosen Okojie’s evocative debut novel. It weaves life in modern day London with regal nineteenth-century Nigeria and visits both countries in the 1960s and 1970s. It also weaves realism with a kind of magical realism to create a wonderfully readable story.
The novel starts and ends in the present with Joy. Joy has just lost her mother, Queenie, and Okojie’s rendering of her grief is almost too painful to read. Joy doesn’t seem to know what she’s doing – she cares too deeply about saving a fish’s life when it is found in a swimming pool and the reader knows it is because she doesn’t want to experience any more death.
Joy’s depression is skilfully and sensitively presented. The human condition in all its forms is seen in Butterfly Fish – from the deeply upsetting grief to the beauty in the everyday. Joy is depressed and people flit in and out of her life. She briefly has a friend, an interesting old lady called Mrs Harris, who is then replaced by a lover who doesn’t really seem to care about her.
Joy is a photographer and seems adept at looking at people’s worlds but not her own. Her family friend, a lawyer, is in charge of Queenie’s will and he is seen later in the story. It is interesting to see how differently characters act after many years and the secrets they have been hiding for so long.
Queenie’s life is skilfully inte ... Read Full Review