Okojie’s brilliant and bold writing (which I have just discovered) is a cocktail of dark and comic surrealism stirred with prosaic human tragedy, and a pinch of London. Think of: foot fetishes, a boy who grows a tail, a story about Asda and electric brains. Okojie’s words light the sky with resistance, resilience and ambiguity. These are tales that explode at the end of our firework show, igniting a questioning sky. To finish this anthology on a cheerful note, or at least with a light display celebrating humanity, read the story, ‘Why is Pepe Canary Yellow?’ about the infamous bank-robber dressed as a chicken, who listens to customers, and leaves behind recipes for coconut cakes, because “If the intentions are good, certain things are forgivable.”
From Speak Gigantular, Jacaranda, 2016
I was fortunate to attend a writing workshop run by Okojie a few years ago. A lovely, friendly, encouraging teacher. I was sort of relaxing into myself when she started to read an excerpt from ‘Following’ and I sat right up. How could I not? “I stared at the tiny slit in your miniature penis, growing it with my mouth.”
I still don’t know how to categorise this story, one where the protagonist taunts and tortures a tiny man she has plucked out of her garden after using a resurrection spell. It’s violent, it’s graphic, it’s not an easy read. But it’s enthralling. It’s a great example of pushing ourselves to dark places, of seeing how far you could go as a writer, and then taking it just a little bit further.
First published in Speak Gigantular, Jacaranda, 2016
Irenosen Okojie’s stories are bold, shimmering with energy and imagination, often with a dash of the surreal or grotesque. This particular story combines both realist and fabulist elements, as well as flirting with a crime format at the very end. The central character Grace has developed an erotic obsession that can only be indulged by foot fetishists. After a series of sexual encounters in parks, studios and attic apartments she goes home to her pet creature, Loneliness. “It was three months old, had a green head, blank human eyes and a crocodile’s tail.” Then – and this is what I love about the story – her mother Merlene comes to stay for a week: uninvited and unannounced, barging into her daughter’s life, and into the story itself, to interrupt and judge and criticize. “‘That dog needs a bath, Grace’”. Loneliness is not a dog, her daughter retorts. They sit together, considering Merlene’s favourite memory of eight-year-old Grace riding her bike. Grace remembers how her mother cried at the end of her sixteenth birthday: “‘You’re not my little girl anymore, Grace’” – this “said with a hint of malice”. The story doesn’t expressly link this infantilising relationship with Grace’s peculiar sexuality, it simply lays these pieces on the table for us to consider as we please.
First published in Speak Gigantular, Jacaranda Books, 2016
I’m constantly in awe of Irenosen’s talent and where her imagination takes me as a reader. Her stories constantly pleasure, surprise and disturb, and what holds them together is sinuous, captivating writing. Read any of her stories and whatever you follow after that will seem basic as fuck. She’s truly special. This story from her new collection about a girl from Martinique with a degree in forensics moonlighting as a Grace Jones impersonator is the one that’s stayed with me the most: dark, layered, and unlike anything else.
First published in Nudibranch, Dialogue Books, 2019
Irenosen Okojie’s 2016 collection Speak Gigantular will be rated a 21st century modern classic in years to come, I’m certain of it. The imagination, wit, energy and bravura in that book is unparalleled and I’ve loved reading and re-reading it over the last couple of years. The literary punch in stories like ‘Gunk’, the pathos in ‘Why is Pepe Canary Yellow?’ and the oddness of ‘Jody’ make her book an unequivocal joy. My favourite story in the book is ‘Walk with Sleep’, a strange tale of limbo in the London Underground. It is told with real elegance and poise. The central conceit is haunting – that those who commit suicide on the Underground meet each other as ghosts, trying to find their way back to the world, and many times I’m waiting for a train at a Tube station I think about it and imagine Okojie’s characters playing in the tunnels.
From Speak Gigantular, Jacaranda Books 2016