Imagine This is the debut novel of one-time Radio 4 playwright Sade Adeniran.
The young author funded the publication of the book herself after several positive but non-committal responses from various publishing companies. I had the pleasure of attending the book launch of 'Imagine This' earlier this year. Adeniran's belief in her first novel was clear from her impassioned reading of excerpts. It is hard to fault her for her sense of confidence - it is a strong start to a promising literary career.
The book takes the form of a journal kept by the prodigiously articulate, assertive and oft misunderstood protagonist Lola Ogunwale. She spends her early years in foster care in Kent with her brother Adebola. Fearing that they might be taken permanently out of his care, the two are plucked from the relative comfort and affection of Aunt Sue and Uncle Eddie by their self-absorbed and emotionally distant father to live first in Lagos, Nigeria and then to be passed from uncaring relative to uncaring relative in various surrounding villages. Through Lola's diary entries addressed to her cherished confidante Jupiter, the book chronicles her transition from childhood to young adulthood- peppered with all the things that typify this difficult time in a young girl's life alongside the astounding levels of misfortune that befall her. Adeniran deals with the harshness of Lola's surroundings, the callous treatment she experiences at the hands of resentful family members with a pathos and vulnerability that makes the story instantly accessible. This is evident most in the early journal entries.
The author retains the endearing childish bewilderment of someone who cannot understand the arbitrary nature of injustice. Yet at the same time she convincingly conveys that Lola is a little girl of great social awareness who can articulate her feelings of discontent in a way that intimidates those around her.
The book raises questions of how much a person is a victim of circumstances, the choices made by those around them and the role of personal responsibility. This is embodied in the fraught relationship between Lola and her father. After his seeming neglect of Lola and her brother, which inadvertently leads to Adebola's death, only to set up house with another woman and her children Lola takes to referring to her father as 'HIM', her angry response to his betrayal and seeming indifference. Then there's the looming spectre of Lola's longing for her lost mother, whose absence is only half-explained towards the end of the book leaving the reader with more questions than answers. This seems quite deliberate on the part of the author, perhaps in an effort to avoid the book being brought to an unrealistically neat and tidy resolution. Although Lola is often perplexed as to what is going on around her Adeniran seems wary of making her a victim of self-pity. That's why it seems particularly harsh at one point in the story, when a 'friend' chastises her for what she perceived as Lola's 'put-upon-attitude'.
The book is not without moments of hope and levity - in fact it's in these areas that Adeniran's shows particularly deftness as she balances the severity of Lola's environment with the accidental humour found in the things going on around her. Lola's time at boarding school in Idogun serves as some welcome comic-relief and it was from this part of the book Adeniran chose to read at the launch, shielding the audience from the darker aspects that are more prevalent in the novel.
The latter half of the novel shows a more philosophical Lola, trying to forge ahead and retain her dignity as the difficult situation facing Nigeria in the 80s under Buhari and Babangida successively, as well as her father's reluctance to get involved emotionally or financially force her to be at the mercy of various relatives. At times Lola's musings become a bit too laboured as she quotes and repeats ad nauseum, at times barely relevant, Yoruba adages. In this respect the author's approach seems somewhat heavy-handed as she tries to highlight Lola's evolution from beleaguered but optimistic little girl to world-weary young woman. Nevertheless Adeniran redeems her debut by introducing more colourful characters in the form of Lola's college friends and love interests proving that there is more to her lead character than domestic anguish and despair.
When asked, Ms Adeniran denied that the book was autobiographical - all the more reason she should be commended for making Lola's story so credible. Imagine This does not necessarily make for thoroughly comfortable and light hearted reading but Adeniran's sensitivity and the intimate nature of the writing make for a compelling and ultimately rewarding first novel.
* Tola Ositelu is a trainee solicitor living in London.
Imagine This is published by SW Books ISBN-13: 978-0955545306 Paperback: 331pp.
* Please send comments to or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/