Author – Marvellous Michael (Nigerian)
Genre – Crime fiction
Number of pages – 317
Independently published at Patridge Africa.
My very first thought while reading Birthmarked last year was that the dialogue is better suited for film.
If you read my review on #Pachinko a few weeks back, I talked about it not following basic rules of fiction. Well, the same applies to Birthmarked. And while rules don’t necessarily have to be followed to write the best book, not following posed a major challenge for me while reading. I’ll discuss my best parts of the book first.
The STORY- fantastic, superb and considering this is a debut, I’m shocked at how much web spinning went into it. I never saw the twists and turns coming. It is set in America and even if you’ve never been you get a sense through words like cops, high school, cabin woods, (we say bush in Nigeria) etc. The real definition of a book full of drama and intrigue.
With regards to character development, chapters one and two introduce us to the two main characters whose lives anchor everyone else in the story. After this, we jump to seventeen years later and the rest of the book fills us in on events that occurred in that time gap till present. This was very nicely done. Hats off. Every new chapter had a sort of revelation (again why I feel it is better suited for film.)
This is the point where I tell you to buy this book and support independent authors who don’t necessarily get the hype that comes with a book deal with an established publishing house.
Considering that we cannot see the actions of characters in a novel like on TV, sentences like – she slept a bit then woke up later don’t work in fiction writing. What is the measure of a bit? How much time is later? The reader needs to know.
There were a lot of these bogus statements made without context. E.g – She had his birth certificate and every proof of his birth erased. You need to show us how she did this. Was she a nurse at the hospital, a police officer? There needs to be context.
I found myself making excuses for some errors in this novel which left me conflicted. Perhaps because I know Marve. Certainly, she did not enjoy editorial privileges that come with publishing with a known name however, somethings need due diligence even before making it to the editor. Like when Mote went to the morgue to identify her son’s body – “the smell of the chemicals used to mask the smell of death nauseated her.” Chemicals? Here’s the thing with fiction. Either you tell us what exactly she was smelling or you don’t. The generic use of chemicals is a no. And had it happened only once, I might have excused it but there’s more, like – “he got black bags and covered their heads.” This is a case of kidnap and the reader would have understood had she simply written he bagged their heads or hooded them. What is a black bag?
Now, at the risk of sounding like a professor of languages, a major challenge was with syntax – While there weren’t many errors in terms of tenses there were a whole lot in terms of grammar, sentence structure and coordination. For instance, she dragged her chair back… She pushed her chair back would have been a better use of English here because you can only drag along or towards you.
Most chapters in birthmarked begin with a name or corresponding pronoun of the character in focus and every paragraph continues as such. I found this super frustrating. This leaves you with paragraphs that begin like – Mote wept… she sat…she imagined…she thought… Jack knew, he snapped, he wasn’t going to accept this etc throughout the entire book.
I personally feel like we didn’t need a back story on every single character. Not characters like detective Maureen.
Some things didn’t tally and a few things remained unresolved for me like Mote writing letters to her boyfriend when she got pregnant, giving excuses that her father won’t let her outside because of his paranoia about tensions building the east. Meanwhile, her sister who was delivering the letters could go out. How?
Or Jay being rescued/adopted as a baby when he was a few days old but never meeting Victoria (his supposed adopted sister) until he was 12.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this, it was fast paced and light weight at the same time. The story line is the most fascinating thing for me in this book and all it would take for Marve to become the next big literary favourite is to continue honing her craft. Her talent is so undeniable.