“The majority of books throughout history are not the heavily decorated and spectacular versions we tend to hear most about, but instead are plain, and fairly ordinary book blocks […] For this reason, the techniques are perhaps not as well understood or documented. Luckily the keen eye of the artist has captured precise details when depicting books throughout history, showing sewing structures, stitch types, supports, covers and even how they were stored. In this post we will look at some examples of books depicted in art.”
Negative Space, by Mike Robinson
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
169 pages, Kindle Edition
Published August 2013
(Original Publ: 2006)
Unfortunately this novel thoroughly disappointed me. Its description gave me high hopes that it would be a lovely piece of oddball, cult, B-grade fiction, but instead it was just a general mess. The publisher had also advertised automatic approval for future titles on NetGalley upon any review, but apparently that did not include negative ones.
The writing was inconsistent. In rare moments when the story became its most philosophical in discussing art and humanity it would shine. But for the most part the writing style is awkward and forced, filled with cringe worthy similes and metaphors that are simply ill chosen, written not for their bearing to the characters or themes, but simply because one should go in, as incongruous as it may be.
More difficult to get past, however, is just the mess of various threads the extremely short novel tries to take on. The opening chapter is never adequately explained, nor are many of the other ‘events’ that occur at the climax of this book, even through the closing chapters that sort of continue on although nothing much more will occur of substance.
On the plus side, Robinson’s characters are all compelling and unique. With some better editing, expansion, and tightening of the plot this could have easily succeeded, but in this form it did little to impress.
One Star out of Five
Foreign Gods, Inc., by Okey Ndibe
Publisher: Soho Press
336 pages, Kindle Edition
Published January 2014
Foreign Gods, Inc. is one of those novels that can be deceptively simple. A well-educated Nigerian man, Ike (Eee-kay), struggling to make ends meet personally and professionally in the US returns to his home village in Nigeria, resigned to steal the local deity, a pathetic plan born of despair to sell the statue to a unique antiquities shop in NYC that offers statues (embodiments) of exotic gods to wealthy collectors. The novel is split between four segments: in NYC, in Nigeria, and back in NYC. Prior to the Nigerian setting that takes up the bulk is a historical ‘retelling’ of the village’s introduction to the missionary who ‘Christianizes’ them and his ‘battles’ against the Nigerian deity, a conflict that still continues in the present day village that Ike returns to.
One theme of the novel is clearly despair and the actions that it drives people to take as they cling on to hopes and beliefs. This imparts a particular darkness to the book overall, it is not by any means a ‘happy story’. Yet, Ndibe manages to keep that tone of despair to a gentle pervading undercurrent up to the novel’s conclusion. With the heaviness of the plot, Ndibe infuses Ike with a humor of absurdity, so that even in the lowest of situations or scenes there remains a bit of the comic, creating a despair that you almost laugh at in realization of the futility in fighting back. Writing in third person, but from the limited POV of Ike, Ndibe also makes the writing lighter and unencumbered, staying true to Ike’s personality: perfect, precise grammar and vocabulary, but blithe and foolishly optimistic.
Beyond the straight-forward plot, Foreign Gods, Inc. says a lot about the cultural history and relations of the West and Africa, from the modern-day exploitation by the shop, to the manipulative brand of ‘Christianity’ exploiting the villagers. Yet, it is not merely critical of the West, but also characteristics of the Nigerian, past and present, such as government corruption… more exploitation.
And I guess that is another major theme here, exploitation of those that are filled with despair. At first I found the historical segue into the Christian missionary who began the ill-conversion of the village to be oddly out-of-place in the scheme of the novel as a whole. It parallels the present-day Nigerian conflicts Ike finds himself embroiled within, but it also highlights how similar Ike ends up being to that Missionary, fueled by an almost insanely naive hope and optimism at the ultimate ‘rightness’ of their actions, certainty if they can just manage to accomplish one small goal that all of their problems will be solved, that a people’s spirits will be saved, or Ike’s existence will. In the end each of them act in such pathetic despair that they lose a certain humanity, becoming an embarrassment, a shell of what they were.
I appreciated the depth that this novel achieves while keeping a strong, simple plot and superior writing.