In a discursive first novel with horrific undertones, empires crumble, a madman makes his wife a mechanical heart and a child emerges late and fatally from the womb.
Magical episodes, curious objects and violent scenes dot the long, impressionistic story narrated by British writer Williams’ heroine Evie Steppman, born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1946. With her prodigiously acute hearing, Evie is happy in the womb; when she does emerge, two months late, she causes the death of her mother. In her restless, meandering literary reminiscence, written in an attic in Scotland at age 64, Evie explores her own story and offers glimpses of her parents, other relatives, friends and lovers, which meld into an atmospheric if plot-free web of sounds, paper documents and above all stories. Evie’s childhood in Nigeria concludes with the country on the edge of independence and showing signs of the violent unrest which will lead to the bloodshed witnessed later in visceral scenes of massacre narrated by a childhood friend. Evie’s subsequent life in Scotland includes madness, a lesbian love affair and withdrawal into a reclusive state of decay. This ambitious, rambling synthesis of individual and world history, stylistically akin to work by Salman Rushdie and Günter Grass, nevertheless lacks their vigor and originality.
Vivid but not quite magical enough.