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Booker Longlist – This Mournable Body – Tsitsi Dangarembga

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Book Nine – reviewed by panelists Book Worm, Anita and Tracy.

Tsitsi Dangarembga was born and raised in Zimbabwe. 

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: 

In this tense and psychologically charged novel, Tsitsi Dangarembga channels the hope and potential of one young girl and a fledgling nation to lead us on a journey to discover where lives go after hope has departed.

Here we meet Tambudzai, living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare and anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job. At every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is a really difficult book to rate and review because it is the final part of a trilogy. Many years ago I read and appreciated the 1st book however I have not read book 2 and this book apparently picks up exactly where that book left off. I suspect reading all the books in order and in a short time frame would have made reading this a totally different experience.

The book is written in the 2nd person which makes it really hard to connect with the main character while at the same time feeling that you are being judged along with her, added to that the way that the central character behaves is not always pleasant and a lot of the time I found it hard to find sympathy for her.

The book did get better after she reconnects with her old boss and starts to build her confidence again. Unfortunately this positivity doesn’t last and the ending was not particularly inspiring or hopeful.

The book does address important issues about life for women in Zimbabwe but it does it in such a way that this reader was left feeling disconnected.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 12/20

Anita’s Thoughts: This book has so much unrealized potential, but unfortunately falls way short of what I expect in a good novel.  The themes are interesting.  Tambu was very successful academically in her youth through hard work, but in the real world, she seems unable to grab a foothold on the ladder of success.  She is wildly jealous of those who have been able to amass anything approaching material success.   In Zimbabwe, the poverty, the lack of respect for women, the corruption, the unenforceable property rights all make it hard for a woman to make her way in the world, and all of this is elucidated during the course of the story.

Unfortunately, it is told in a way that is so boring and unnecessarily obtuse.  I did not read the two prior books in the trilogy, and I do think that might have made a big difference because perhaps I would have had passing familiarity with the characters beyond the protagonist.  But since I didn’t, they all just seemed like a stream of names.  Some of them had multiple names and were referred to differently from time to time.  Others were referred to as her mother’s uncle’s sister’s son (okay, not really, but that represents how confusing it all was in terms of who was related to whom and how they were interrelated).  If I have to spend this much time just figuring out what is going on, it is very, very hard to get lost in the storytelling.

Many people will dislike the fact that the book is written in the second person POV, but I actually liked that element and thought it was well done.  It’s almost like we were inside Tambu’s mind as she scolds herself for her many failures.  In addition, there were actually some descriptive passages that were beautifully written, but sadly there weren’t many of them.  I wanted to see more of that author and less of the one struggling to move her character to the finish line.

Bottom line, this book didn’t get interesting until the last 20% when I finally understood where the author was going and why.  The first 80% is such a slog that honestly in no way was the journey made worthwhile by the payoff.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total: 10/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: 

I read the first book in this trilogy a long time ago, and remember enjoying it. The setting and politics of Zimbabwe are unfamiliar, and I’m glad the judges chose something that was not the norm.

I liked revisiting the character- her struggles seem very real, even familiar. A woman’s ideas and work stolen by a male colleague? Nope, never happens (insert eye roll here). She faces racism, ageism, and political strife. As Tambu moves through the novel, it’s clear she’s having a midlife crisis, on top of everything else.

The writing was confusing at times, and had to be followed closely in order to catch points. The second person narration didn’t help that. But the descriptions of time and place were wonderful, and easy to get lost in. 

All in all, an enjoyable, but slow, read for me. 

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total: 15/20

Rankings

  1. Apeirogon 18
  2. How Much of These Hills is Gold 16.1
  3. Shuggie Bain 15.3
  4. Real Life 13.9
  5. This Mournable Body 12.3
  6. Burnt Sugar11.8
  7. Such a Fun Age 11.1
  8. Redhead at the Side of the Road 11
  9. The New Wilderness 10.4

Nicole couldn’t finish …. What did you think?

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