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A Review of 'Butterfly Fish' by Irenosen Okojie

By Nkem Egenuka on Wed, 14/09/2016 - 15:23

Butterfly Fish is a powerful story of a woman exploring her African heritage after her mother's death. It is an evocative and compelling novel, with themes  exploring love, hope, political upheaval, loss, and coming undone. It was recently submitted for the Man Booker Prize.

This novel weaves life in modern day London with regal nineteenth-century Nigeria and visits both countries in the 1960s and 1970s. It also exudes with a kind of magical realism to create a wonderfully readable story.

The novel starts and ends in the present with Joy. Joy has just lost her mother, Queenie, and Okojie’s rendering of her grief is almost too painful to read. Joy doesn’t seem to know what she’s doing – she cares too deeply about saving a fish’s life when it is found in a swimming pool and the reader knows it is because she doesn’t want to experience any more death.

From the deeply upsetting grief to the beauty in the everyday. Joy is depressed and people flit in and out of her life. She briefly has a friend, an interesting old lady called Mrs Harris, who is then replaced by a lover who doesn’t really seem to care about her.

Joy is a photographer and seems adept at looking at people’s worlds, but not her own. Her family friend, a lawyer, is in charge of Queenie’s will and he is seen later in the story. It is interesting to see how differently characters act after many years and the secrets they have been hiding for so long.

Queenie’s life is skilfully intertwined in the story; in many ways, the novel is entirely about her death. Queenie’s narrative as she moved to London in the 1960s is pivotal to the story: the life she left in Nigeria and the sort of world she found in London is a masterful telling of the immigrant’s life.


About the Author

Irenosen Okojie is a writer, curator and Arts Project Manager. She has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Southbank Centre and the Caine Prize. Her writing has been featured in the Guardian and the Observer. Her short stories have been published internationally, including Kwani 07 and Phatitude. She was a selected writer by Theatre Royal Stratford East and Writer in Residence for TEDx East End. In 2014, she was the Prize Advocate for the SI Joy’s depression is expertly presented. The human condition in all its forms is seen in Butterfly Fish Leeds Literary Prize. She is a mentor for the Pen to Print project supported by publisher Constable & Robinson. She lives in east London.




About the Author