Ayo Sogunro’s sophomore book, The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and Other Sorry Tales, drops very soon, and I got a chance to read it beforehand. These are my thoughts on it.
I first came across Ayo Sogunro’s writing on the blog www.idlemindset.com. I found his writing witty, the humor acerbic, and the words wielded precisely like a fine scalpel. It is always a joy when a writer on the blogosphere takes the step to publish a work in the book form, and I eagerly awaited the coming of Ayo’s debut book, Sorry Tales. And when I read the review copy, I wasn’t disappointed.
Most writers struggle for a long time to find that elusive quality in writing which critics have called “voice”. It is what sets a writer apart from the rest of the pack; that would allow readers tell that the writer authored a work even before seeing the individual credited for the work. It was one of the things that struck me first about Ayo’s writing and in Sorry Tales it comes out clear, strong and distinct.
An even deeper struggle ensues when writers find their voice though. How does one write fiction and give the characters a voice of their own, while still speaking with one’s voice through the writing? Again, Ayo was able to strike this balance effectively in the book. There are however situations where it will be clear to the reader that the characters are speaking what the author would have said, as he would have said it.
Weaving a 144 page collection of short stories that would keep one reading to the end is not easy. The stories are masterfully arranged such that the intensity increases until the reader reaches a climax with the final story about Ade. In spite of a tight schedule, I finished Sorry Tales in two sittings, reading half on the first day and the second half the next day.
I have been a staunch advocate of new writing coming out of Nigeria that does not portray a nostalgic view of our culture and everyday life. Sorry Tales delivers such a story, weaving tales within settings and contexts that readers will instantly recognize, plot lines that are modern and current, and characters that we can immediately match with someone we know or have interacted with in our day to day living. In spite of the stories being interesting and in certain cases laced with events that require quite a stretch of the imagination, one cannot shake off how easily possible it is that these could be stories happening next door.
Each story can be taken on its own, in conjunction with the poetry that precedes it or as part of the image the author wishes to paint with the book. Stories subtly reference other stories in the collection, adding to the cohesion of the book. As with such a collection, it is possible to pick the ones that stand out. The final three stories are arguably the best in the collection.
While the preface encourages the reader to first and foremost enjoy the stories’ entertainment value, it is impossible to miss the strong commentary of our society that the stories provide. A lot of the stories dwell on what is going on in the heads of the characters, offering a view of what the author believes motivate such characters in society. This sometimes caused the stories to drag, but they contribute to an overall understanding of the plots. In some cases, I believe the editor should have made Ayo fight harder to retain some words in the narrative. There are also some concepts that could have been expressed in simpler terms, say for example the term “auditory space” which occurred twice.
I like that characters are not irredeemably bad or uncharacteristically good in the stories. Rather, they are regular people who do good or bad things, based on motivations and beliefs.
All in all, Sorry Tales is a great read and should be on your shopping list immediately it becomes available.
Engage Ayo on twitter @ayosogunro