The Famished Road by Ben Okri (1991) 500 p.

Winner of the 1991 Booker prize, The Famished Road is a Nigerian novel detailing the childhood of a boy named Azaro, a “spirit child” who lives amongst ordinary people while also seeing the fantastic world of African spirits.

Okri is a poet as well as a writer, and it shows. Despite running for 500 pages The Famished Road is effectively plotless. Azaro lives with his parents in a compound on the outskirts of an unnamed city, seeing spirits, having dreams, and so forth. There’s a lot of crazy visions and supposedly inspiring revelations, but not a lot happens. It’s mostly meandering magical realism.

I can appreciate the skill. I can appreciate the objective quality. There are some passages in here which are quite beautiful. But by God this book was a slog – a long, hard, painful, counting-down-the-pages-left slog. I’m sure there are many readers who enjoy this kind of novel, and I can see why it won the Booker, but it was absolutely not for me.

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