Wahala by Nikki May: A refreshing story of female friendship

A feast for the senses that transports us away from our pandemic reality

 In Nikki May’s debut, food is so present that it is practically another character

In Nikki May’s debut, food is so present that it is practically another character

Sat, Jan 29, 2022, 06:00

   
 

Book Title:
Wahala

ISBN-13:
978-0857527783

Author:
Nikki May

Publisher:
Doubleday

Guideline Price:
£14.99

In her debut novel, Wahala, Nikki May has served up a feast for the senses. From the first page, there is sound, colour, taste and smells, dunking the reader in a world that feels riotously alive and wonderfully distant from our current pandemic reality.

Food is so present in this book that it is practically another character. Much of the action takes place in kitchens and restaurants, drama playing out over plates of jollof rice and pounded yam. There are even recipes for chicken stew, jollof rice and moin-moin at the back of the book.

The story follows Ronke, Boo and Simi, three friends navigating relationships, family tensions and career difficulties in their 30s.

Each protagonist is struggling in her own way. Ronke is trying hard to build a life with her unreliable boyfriend, Kayode. Boo is struggling with a suffocating domesticity. Simi is juggling work pressures while trying to sustain a long-distance marriage and stay on the same page as her husband, Martin.

Exposing secrets

But it is the arrival on the scene of the glamorous and meddling Isobel that raises the stakes. Isobel’s presence exacerbates existing fragilities, exposing secrets, rocking relationships and building to a crescendo that upends the lives of these three friends.

Wahala creates a strong and vibrant sense of the Nigerian diaspora experience in London, with Nigerian colloquialisms, slang and turns of phrase peppering the text. Everyday racism and cultural clashes are part and parcel of life and it is the experience of growing up mixed race between both Nigeria and England that helps bond Ronke, Boo and Simi so tightly together.

Readers looking to be transported will find Wahala ideal. It is a story of friendships fraying, a past that comes barrelling into the present and a group of friends facing these challenges together. By choosing to have the narrative move between these three different perspectives, we get a close sense of each character. The narration is unguarded and natural, the characters not trying to win the reader’s approval or appear on their best behaviour. It is refreshing to find flawed characters in a story that is, fundamentally, centred on female friendships. You will root for them, shout at them, and laugh with them. It is a winning debut.