Nigerian authors continues to enthrall and surprise the world of literature. The latest to do so is Oyinkan Braithwaite with her debut novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer. The crime novel stands most standard tropes on their heads, reversing the usual male predator, female victim roles. The novel is in the running for the newly established Staunch Book Prize. JP O’Malley spoke with the author in her Lagos home.
MY SISTER THE SERIAL KILLER AUTHOR: OYINKAN BRAITHWAITE PUBLISHER: ATLANTIC BOOKS
More dangerous than the male?
In the wake of the #metoo movement last year, significant noise arose in the publishing world highlighting the fact that so many thriller and crime books typically present clichéd stories depicting hyper-sexualised women as helpless victims – thus reinforcing gender discrimination, hierarchies between the sexes, and archaic patriarchal power dynamics.
This public discussion led to the emergence of the Staunch Book Prize: an award given to a novel in the thriller genre where no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.
As soon as my chat with Oyinkan Braithwaite begins, I mention that I think her debut novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer, has a strong chance of scooping the prize, this year, for the recently established literary accolade. After all, it certainly has all the necessary credentials.
“I think if I did win the award you mention, it would be a huge coincidence,” Braithwaite explains from her Lagos home.
The stylish, snappy debut novel has essentially inverted the typical thriller plot, and reversed its ste-
reotypical gender roles; presenting instead a story involving a number of helpless male suitors who find themselves six feet under whenever they attempt to woo the narrative’s mysterious-sassy-serial-killer, Ayoola.
The 30-year-old debut Nigerian novelist sets up the book’s dramatic tension with immediate urgency. By page two, for instance, we already know that Ayoola has claimed her first victim, Femi: a casual lover who she stabs first in the heart, finishing him off with two further jabs, before disposing of the body and any trace of evidence. This last part of the operation is carried out with the help of Ayoola’s sister, Korede, the story’s sole narrator.
“I really didn’t know what genre I was writing when I began this book,” the writer explains: “But I first began to think of this idea of women killing men when I read up on the Black Widow Spider: the dynamic in nature where after she mates with the male, the female [spider] begins to feel hungry, and then eats him. And so I started playing around with that idea.”
Ayoola’s role in the narrative thus quickly becomes one of a seductive ice-queen/femme fatale who possesses a long line of willing would-be murder victims at her disposal.
There is Tade, the respectable doctor, who has enthusiastic plans for marriage; then Gboyega, the jet-setting businessman who makes the Lagos news headlines after his mysterious death from food poisoning on a brief sojourn he takes with Ayoola in Dubai.
Braithwaite relays the details of these violent episodes with cutting black humour in a narrative that leans more towards comedic farce than standard murder mystery.
“It was weird for me when people started to describe the book as a dark comedy,” Braithwaite admits. “I guess what happened was that I was writing a very dark theme, in a dead pan manner, and it just ended up being funny.
“It’s almost like a shock element, and that is what comedy is mostly about: you set up one thing, and then something else entirely happens,” she says.
“Some readers have also told me that they felt the book was very