Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou
|Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Bone|
|Summary: An irreverent, esoteric soap opera full of colourful characters and bizarre African customs, in a prose style that takes a bit of getting used to due to its lack of full stops.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: May 2011|
|Publisher: Serpent's Tail|
The protagonist of this novel is an ordinary Congolese porcupine until Papa Kibandi performs an ancient ritual involving a hallucinogenic cocktail called mayamvumbi, and transforms him into his son's harmful double. The insecure younger Kibandi becomes more and more embittered as his life goes on, and sends his porcupine to 'eat' anybody he feels the least bit threatened by, a process whereby that person's life essence is sucked out, killing them instantly. Over one hundred victims later and following his master's death at the hands of a vengeful baby, our narrator retires to the hollow of a baobab tree where he writes this confessional.
The first thing you notice about Memoirs of a Porcupine is its lack of full stops – in fact, there's no punctuation in the whole book except commas! This really irritated me at first, especially as there are natural places for full stops to be, and I spent some time re-punctuating the first few chapters after I'd received the book. The device did grow on me in the end – the absence of full stops meant I couldn't reread sentences I hadn't 'taken in' as I would've had to go all the way back to the beginning of the chapter, and this kept the porcupine's colloquial narrative flowing through my mind and made for a more meditative read. Some readers might find the book too frustrating, though, and if I hadn't been reviewing Memoirs of a Porcupine I might have given up early on myself.
The author has mined a rich seam of African folklore/superstition for this novel which gives it a hyper-real quality – the foibles, quirks and obsessions of its characters get exaggeratedly blown up through the presence of magic, animal doubles and psychic twins. The myths are too bizarre not to be genuine African superstitions, such as the belief that a murdered corpse can be prevented from revealing its killer if the murderer has concealed a palm nut inside his rectum. Obviously bonkers, but the author uses these arcane local beliefs to emphasise a more general craziness endemic in human nature. Essentially Kibandi is a self-doubting, resentful man, plagued by a sense of inadequacy about being skinny and his social status, whose inferiority complex has negative repercussions for the people around him.
Memoirs of a Porcupine bounds along like an esoteric soap opera with lots of colourful bit players, such as Amédée, the local intellectual who has travelled the world and woos girls with his fancy clothes and tales from European novels, and Moudiongui the palm wine tapper, who sells the finest, sweetest palm wine in Seképembé. Lots of these characters end up dead, the victims of Kibandi's macabre social malaise. Despite its high body count though, this book is very funny and insightful, so I recommend it to anybody who can learn to cope with the eccentric punctuation.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further Reading Suggestion: Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou
You can read more book reviews or buy Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.