‘Onuzo is precocious, but she is not a prodigy’ – The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

Chibundu Onuzo is nineteen, or twenty, or some other ridiculously young age. If I were a better critic I would be able to ignore this fact and review the book on its own merits.

Actually, I did read the book and start to review it on its own merits, but I had to stop that so I could find out whether the novel was aimed at the contemporary fiction or at the Young Adult market. This was because having finished the novel I was beginning to suspect the latter, though there had been no indication of this when the book arrived. That was when I discovered that Chibundu Onuzo is nineteen, or twenty, or some other ridiculous age.

And then the age of the writer became an issue.

Because: The Spider King’s Daughter is not aimed at the Young Adult market but it probably should have been. The book is far better than anything you or I would have produced at that age but it is still not quite up to scratch. It is a little naïve, its structure begins to drift in places and, like everything that arrives via a nineteen-year-old’s voice, it begins to grate after a while. Unless you are under nineteen yourself, in which case it will sound gritty and knowledgeable.

The story is one of friendships over class divides, of rich girl meets poor hawker, of corruption and hope in Nigeria. It is as familiar as an old duvet, and for some readers equally comforting. For those of us who want something new, in either the story or its delivery, there is little here at all. Onuzo is precocious, but she is not a prodigy.

A more experienced writer would not split a novel into two complimentary narratives and then allow one to race days ahead of the other. A more experienced writer would know an adult needs a damn good reason to care about seventeen-year-olds. A more experienced reader would fill the book with more life. Let the story breathe. I suspect a lot of writers have a novel like this under their bed in a tatty shoebox.

Someone at Faber clearly disagrees with me though. I hope they are as keen to nurture Onuzo’s talent as they are to profit from its beginnings. God, I sound like someone’s father don’t I? But the truth is that this is a pretty average debut novel, that will get slightly more press than it normally would because its author is nineteen, or twenty, or some other ridiculously young age. That is all you need to know. Onuzo could very well go on to be the next Shakespeare, but she isn’t one yet.

Any Cop?: I feel like a monster, but no. The Spider King’s Daughter is a solid piece of writing. There is little really wrong with it, but there is nothing in it that makes me want to proclaim its genius from the rooftops either.

Benjamin Judge

One comment

  1. “nineteen, or twenty, or some other ridiculously young age” This repeated comment sums up the snide, mean-mindedness of this reviewer. For all its flaws, The Spider King’s Daughter is a good read, and a very promising debut novel. By the way, I presume Judge meant ‘two complementary narratives’. Maybe he should look more carefully to his own writing.

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