Love Is Power Or Something Like That
By A. Igoni Barrett
Chatto & Windus – £14.99
There’s a short story in this book called ‘Godspeed and Pepetua,’ which is so intrinsically alluring yet simultaneously real, gritty and harrowing,’ that it remained with me for days.
The last time this was the case, was when I read another collection of short stories – the superbly written Ten – by Andrej Longo; which again, literally stopped me in my tracks. But whereas Longo’s stories are essentially anchored in the volatile under-current of violence in contemporary Naples, Love Is Power Or Something Like That is a searing, if not scathing portrait of all-round life in modern, everyday Nigeria.
From kissing cousins to cavorting jealous husbands, from teenage internet (angst) hustlers to home exorcisms, author and ultra-people watcher, A. Igoni Barrett, has herein delivered nine short stories that are as visually dynamic and literary distinctive, as they are at times cloyingly disturbing: ”When she was eleven and he came to visit because his uncle, her father, was lying on the sickbed, he placed her on his knee and stroked her legs till she roped her arms round his neck and suffocated him in a cloud of peppermint sniffles and talcum sweat. That night, while he fondled himself, her father died” (‘The Little Girl with Budding Breasts and a Bubblegum Laugh’).
Furthermore, the book is simply riddled with a number of fab’n’succinct one-liners such as: ”His face was a gargoyle mask of loathing,” ”Through the unbuttoned part of his shirt his belly heaved like a hippopotamus in labour,” ”[…] her children followed daily with the single-mindedness of mosquitoes” (these three alone, appear in the title story, ‘Love Is Power Or Something Like That’). And there’s more: ”Her gaze was reptilian in its steadiness,” ”[…] Ben’s skin was sea-bottom white in the darkness that framed his face,” ”She was married to a Trinidadian, the tuba-voiced, hummus-complexioned Amos Stennet […],” ”Yet the memories flooded in like a sugar-rush, floating on that unforgettable tune.”
There’s something about Barrett’s writing, that instinctively transports the reader unto a very different place; a place that asks just as many questions, as it bequeaths a certain tenderness. The sort of which, is not so readily given in our daily lives. As Michela Wrong has written on the inside-sleeve of the book: ”A. Igoni Barrett has a big heart. His portrait of modern-day Nigeria, like the country itself, is a bewitching juxtaposition of the grotesque and uplifting, rotten and humane.”