Welcome back to Bite-size Reads, where I’m currently enjoying tales collected by Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas. It’s time to be haunted and horrified by some more African Monsters…
Last week, I reviewed the first five tales in this anthology. Today I look at six more and find that this week’s key themes are feminism and haunted babies (although not at the same time).
Chikwambo – TL Huchu
The Tsikamutanda knows that the terrible murders plaguing the district have an unnatural cause, a monster conjured from the corpse of a dead baby. But which child? I was surprised and pleased that this wasn’t a witch hunt, and that it very deliberately deflected blame – if not consequences – from the innocent. A dark, tense cautionary tale that I rather enjoyed – to a point; I couldn’t help but be slightly dissatisfied by the way it crash stopped at the what-do-you-mean-that’s-the-end.
Monwor – Dilman Dila
Lonely Segolene is trying to come to terms with her divorce and fend off her boss’s unwanted advances. A no-nonsense woman in the male-dominated world of the police, she makes a fantastic protagonist as she scolds and threatens her way through the case. She’s a fabulous blend of “this isn’t my fucking job” and “I’ll fucking solve it though”, and provides a feminist lens that can acknowledge the misogynistic roots of the urban legend it embraces. The subplot of her wondering whether almost every man she met (her boss excluded) would make good husband material got old, though.
That Woman – S Lotz
Hell hath no vengeance like a woman settling scores. When a police investigator is sent up country to follow up on a wild tale of murder, he discovers that justice can take many forms. The story examines the ways women – especially financially-independent widows – are wronged in patriarchal societies, served up with a spooky supernatural twist. Very much my cup of tea; I particularly enjoyed the investigator’s interactions with the local police chief.
Sacrament of Tears – Toby Bennett
A white man goes in search of a friend’s son, only to find tragedy and horror he cannot explain. There’s a tension here between the beliefs of the locals who can worship at church on Sunday and yet know that the priest’s wife strayed too close to the baobab tree, and their child is a spirit of woe. Yes, it’s another haunted baby story, but I have a soft spot for epistolary narratives, especially when laden with period formality and wrapped up in Gothic packaging.
Bush Baby – Chikodili Emelumadu
A tale of bad choices and bad blood that explores just how far you’ll go for your (estranged) family. This is great – sticky and nasty, with love and hate and envy and loyalty twisting and twisting until they cut – although those wanting to know how it turns out may be disappointed by the open ending. In the end, the crux of the tale is whether a sister will try to save an undeserving brother; and whether he can be saved – not whether he is.
After the Rain – Joe Vaz
Something very different to close out the week: Joe Vaz’s tale is presented as autobiographical, grounding itself in the difficult experience of returning to a place that was once home, but where long absence means you no longer belong. Our narrator hopes to find a woman who was kind to him as a child; instead he finds the truth behind a tall tale. You can’t go home is a theme that always resonates with me; here, Vaz finds another way that it can cut deep. Excellent, if painful.
I think I’ve enjoyed this second week more than the first – it’s felt like I’ve had more to chew on in these narratives, perhaps thanks to the focus falling more firmly on people and their tangled webs of emotion. It’s left me excited to see what awaits me in my final week of reading.
I received a free copy from the editor. This did not influence the content of my (very overdue) review.