By Sami Tunji
In the beginning are the Words. Words that crawl into your heart and you want to read further into the mysterious underworld of Oyinkansola Braithwaite’s Thicker Than Water. “Korede, I killed him” is the first sentence that triggers your interest. Killed who? Why? How? Where? I guess these questions are not unfamiliar to crime fiction readers. Thus, from the first sentence, it seems to me that I’m about to read a crime fiction, then in the next chapter, it feels like a crime fiction with a pedagogical predisposition. The novella seems to be an offshoot of the proverbial expression of brotherhood and familial / filial bond: “Blood is thicker than water.” Out of this expression comes the title of the novella.
The novel revolves around the sacrifice a sister makes on behalf of her sister in the name of blood. Korede, the narrator of the novella and a sister to Ayoola, does not only battle with keeping her sister’s secrets, she also battles to win the heart of a man, she loves, but who seems to be more interested in her sister. Korede then has to worry about Tade, the man after her heart; she worries that he may become another victim in the hands of her sister, who is inclined to killing the men she dates.
Femi is the third boyfriend Ayoola has killed. After Femi, Gboyega, another boyfriend, becomes the next victim. Ayoola, (permit me to use the phrase “Sexy Evil Genius”. By the way, I recently watched a movie with that title) seems to be a product of “like father, like daughter”. Korede admits this: “The thing is, more and more, she reminds me of him. He could do a bad thing, and be a citizen of model behaviour right after. As though that bad thing had not taken place. But perhaps it’s in me too. His blood is my blood and her blood and her blood is my blood and my blood is hers.” Korede, as troubled as she gets, is bound by blood to safeguard her younger sister and her sister’s secrets no matter the bad or evil thing her sister does. That’s what elder sisters do, right?
Well, at first, it seems Ayoola may not get away with the repeated murders. However, the novel does not end the way you would have imagined a typical crime fiction would. Reading the novella becomes almost a game – the game of “Cluedo”. Ayoola explains this game: “you play to find out who the murderer was, in what room the murder took place, and with what weapon.” Nonetheless, since the murderer is known, unlike most crime fiction, one only reads to see if Ayoola will kill more men and if karma will pay her a visit. More interestingly, Korede soon gets to the crossroads where she has to choose, who to fight for: her sweet shrewd sister or Tade, who luckily escapes death? At this point, tension increases and the novella becomes more intriguing.
The chapter subtitled “Instagram” echoes an integration of social media and novel in the works of contemporary African (particularly Nigerian) writers. You will find a similar style in Igoni Barrett’s Blackass, in which Twitter posts (tweets) are integrated and Toni Kan’s Carnivorous City, in which BBM (Black Berry Messenger) chats are integrated. Interestingly, the hashtag of the first sentence of this chapter “#FemiDurandismissing has gone viral” reminds me of the first sentence of Kan’s novel: “Soni is missing.” A literary coincidence, I guess. Other hashtags soon come up: “#NaijaJollofvsKenyanJollof and #TomiandKofeForever”. These other hashtags validate the reality that things are easily forgotten and new things always come up online.
Braithwaite impresses with her strong attention to details. Poignant and a bit poetic. The images clutch your mind and memory for a long time even after you finish reading the novella. To some extent, this novella reminds me of Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children – the diction and the imagery (although not so much), and the narrative fragments. Nonetheless, the poeticality of the narrative fades as the plot progresses, making the novella become a potential script for a conventional Nollywood movie. Amusingly, the hospital scenes bring back memories of a Nigerian TV soap opera I used to watch – “Clinic Matters”. Yet, this novella is thrilling enough for you to read.