Nights of the Creaking Bed by Toni Kan

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Nights of the Creaking Bed by Toni Kan

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Alex Merrick
Reviewed by Alex Merrick
Summary: Nigeria is brought to life in a collection of short stories by Toni Kan. Nights of the Creaking Bed devastates in its relentless insistence of what a Nigerian experience is. It is one born from violence but slowly rising up.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: April 2019
Publisher: Cassava Republic Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1911115847

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Nights of the Creaking Bed is a collection of short stories by Toni Kan. The series of stories tells of the lives and lusts of an assortment of characters living in and around Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria, in this collection, is imbued with its very own heart of darkness. Danger stalks the shadows and people are killed for nothing more than a wrong look. Kan writes with vitality and passion that allows these cynical stories to achieve a glimmer of hope.

The stories deal with universal themes: the fear of strangers and the lust of the forbidden being two standouts. These themes resonate throughout the world. Kan uses this universality to talk about the trials and tribulations of a uniquely Nigerian experience.

Nigeria is the richest African country with a GDP of $376bn in 2017. It has both the highest GDP as well as having the largest population. Nigeria was a country created by drawing down tribal lines by colonial powers, splitting brother from brother and mixing friend with foe. This tribal mixing has created a great amount of infighting and tribal conflict. Kan does not focus on the colonial influences but rather how Nigeria's future and past are constantly fighting. Nigeria was formed in 1963 after sixty years as a British protectorate. It succumbed to military rule three years later after a bloody coup. It finally became a republic again in 1979. Kan explores how Nigeria's new wealth mixes with its violent past.

In The Phone Call Goodnight an upper-class woman's life is uprooted when her husband calls her one night in a panic. She is watching Desperate Housewives whilst she takes the phone call, the standard to which all upper-class housewives aspire. Kan smashes her bourgeoise existence with one call. He wants the reader to realise that one phone call is all it takes sometimes to destroy a life. Although Nigeria is wealthy and is an exemplar of African progressivism, it still harbours the dangers of every other country. Money does not keep you safe.

Kan uses Lagos as a microcosm of the Nigerian experience. In The Devil's Overtime a boy is abandoned in Lagos by his mother. He is forced to grow up on its streets. Kan writes every time I watched that senseless orgy of rage and violence I would wonder why we were so quick to land that blow and kick out at one of our own. Violence is never far away in Kan's stories, as it is never far away in Nigeria. The implication of one of our own is of the wars that ravaged Nigeria and of the different tribes so willing to fight each other. The characters, even those who escape the violence of the streets, are corrupted by their experience and they live with the physical and emotional scars. Kan's view of Lagos is not a positive one.

In Buzz, a noir story about a detective investigating a murder, everyone who becomes drawn to the city seems to have been corrupted or killed by its allure. Like a moth to a flame, Lagos appears, shimmering, ready to burn up all who come to it. Noir stories are perfect in encapsulating all the seediness and vices of a city and its inhabitants. However, due to the nature of a noir, there must be some form of Good. This is Buzz, the detective. A man who is drawn to the violence but because he aims to resolve it. Kan writes Buzz as another one of the criminals. He is an angry damaged man. However, like the city he writes of, there is hope. There is goodness within. It is just covered by an awful lot of filth.

Many of the stories are told through a first-person narrator, often a child. Nigeria is seen through childish eyes and is shown to destroy the innocence of its children. In Ahmed a young man goes on a trip to Lagos with his brother. Lagos, in this tale, is the ultimate destroyer of innocence. He arrives and peril immediately befalls him. He is not experienced enough so the city immediately throws him to the kerb. Another story illustrating Kan's views on children in Nigeria is Onions. The boy in this story is made to hawk onions on Christmas Day. Even on a day for family, this boy is denied it. The ending illustrates a glimmer of hope though as he rejects his job and runs back home.

Nights of the Creaking Bed is filled with anger and horror. It also has elements of humour running through it. Human beings have an incredible way of finding laughter in the saddest places even the title is a pun on Night of the Living Dead. Kan does not want the reader to pity these Nigerians. Their stories are universal and their violence is universal. If anything, Kan wants us to pity humans.

For more short stories we can recommend Fear by Roald Dahl or When Mr Putin Stole My Painting: Ten Short Stories by Joannah Yacoub.

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