This book is easily a new favorite.
A perfectly written novel from the first sentence, to the structure, voice, characterization, climax, and beyond. Every detail is exquisitely plotted and every sentence resonates.
This is the type of book I would be interested in anyway, based on the title and description: a girl who cleans up when her sister decides to kill her boyfriend—again. Ayoola claims it’s self-defense, but this is the third time and Korede is starting to get suspicious. Sounds too good to pass up! But the description for this book doesn’t really do it justice. This ended up being so much more than just a kooky little story about covering up murders. It is offers social satire and commentary, while creating a layered story and serving up characters that are a delight to read.
Though this book is obviously a satire, it doesn’t go overboard. It is still interested in creating a realistic story while giving a little wink to the reader just to say how ridiculous it all is. There was never a point where I was confused by Korede’s actions and wondering why she just doesn’t turn her sister in. Everything she does feels perfectly reasonable, given the way the events build up, not just throughout the book, but throughout her life. This character building creates the perfect storm and ends with giving Korede only one option.
The reader slowly gets to see pieces of her past, like her violent and oppressive father, how her beautiful and favored sister has always gotten her way, how even her mother pushes her aside and undermines her. Korede’s obsessive cleaning comes into focus: she might not be able to fix the way she looks or change the way her sister acts, but if she can just get things perfectly, spotlessly clean, that is one thing that she can control.
I thought the short chapters and chapter titles worked so well, giving these snapshots of Korede’s days. It seemed to be just another window into how she thought, how she catalogued life, and it captured her character perfectly.
I loved the subtle satire that played on lots of different elements and was interested in larger social issues. There are the lackadaisical police, who are not interested in the case of the missing Femi (yep, Ayoola killed him) until his rich relatives get involved. Definitely a comment on the Nigerian law system.
Braithwaite also points out our ridiculous beauty standards, which I think were illustrated most keenly in a scene where Korede wears makeup to her job as a nurse and is quickly derided by her coworkers. She knows she can’t outdo her supermodel attractive sister (who really has no other redeeming qualities) in this department, but it is heartbreaking the way that no one is able to see who she really is. If only they would listen. . .
Braithwaite also pokes at men and how often they aren’t able to see past looks. Tade, the doctor that Korede is interested in seems great—he’s good with children, listens to patients—but the problem is, perhaps he is a great doctor and not such a great person. He can’t see what Korede brings to the table, but as soon as he lays eyes on Ayoola, she is everything he wants, even as she ghosts him and acts rude.
If this book teaches you anything, it’s that looks aren’t everything. Gosh, aren’t we past that at this point? I wish, but social media and the constant proliferation of images and obsession with creating and sharing a perfectly designed life curated in little squares has really made this issue larger than ever. Or at least more visible.
This is illustrated with the power dynamics at Korede’s work. Her female coworkers are jealous of Ayoola when they meet her and immediately lash out passive-aggressively against Korede, seeing her lack of beauty as a weak spot. How can Korede fight them? She has become a hardened shell of a person, someone antisocial and mean in order to combat this sort of ridiculousness.
And in spite of all that, she would be the real catch for any man. She is smart, hardworking, a great cook—but her downfall is her intense loyalty.
This book left me thinking about a lot of things. It is a power-packed punch of a novel and one I will be revisiting soon. I hear the audiobook is great, so I’d like to give that a try!
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.