Book: Nothing Comes Close
Author: Tolulope Popoola
Publisher: Accomplish Press
No woman likes nasty surprises in a relationship, particularly when it is her heart on the line. So it is plausible that the reader feels the jolt of every twist and turn in the journey of these two lovers as they learn to put their trust in no one else but each other.
Nothing Comes Close is the story of two lovers: Lola and Wole, and the lives of their friends around them. Wole and Lola meet at her friend Titi's birthday party and of course sparks fly. They exchange numbers and it kind of grows from there. The story is told in first person narrative. It alternates between Lola and Wole's points of view as events unfold. Setting is in UK: London and Milton Keynes, with a few scenes in Lagos, Nigeria towards the end of the story. Lola has four friends: Funmi, Maureen, Temmy and Titi - all presumably in their 20s and hoping to meet the man of their dreams. These friends have a 'Carriesque' quality about them - such as Carrie Bradshaw had with her girls in 'Sex & The City.' They support each other through thick and thin including break-ups, engagement and grief. Wale has his friends too: Kene and Mark. I find Wole's POV and the yarn with his friends down-to-earth and credible, particularly when they have their 'Poker Wednesdays'. Wole, Kene and Mark make me laugh a few times - that's how Naija dudes talk.
Wole is an interesting character with a somewhat shady past as well as a traumatic one. He is revealed slowly which helps create suspense and a few twists. To the female reader he is the forbidden fruit you cannot not help but take a bite of. But is he worth the risk? This is the question Lola has to ask herself.
There are some interesting twists. Lola's friend Maureen dies in very unfortunate circumstances. It was sudden, reminding the reader of the social ills around us. There is also another death: a murder. Wole is implicated in the murder and arrested by the Police. Lola chooses to stand by him, but would Wole appreciate this and was Lola right to stand by him? Lola's elder sister and her husband are wary of Wole and advise Lola to end the relationship, but this is not the extent of the sister's interference. She goes further than that and it does not bode well for Lola and Wole.
What I particularly like about Nothing Comes Close is the Naija flavour. Though it is mainly set in the UK, the story retains the authenticity of its Nigerian characters in the dialogue, humour and expressions. The first person narrative is effective in the shifting POV between Lola and Wole as the plot unfolds. There is a smooth flow which is commendable. The reader is able to keep up with who is telling the story as their name is highlighted at the beginning of each chapter. The downside to the use of first person narrative in this way is that the reader is exposed to the character 'telling' what is happening as opposed to 'showing' and letting the story unfold by itself. This does not spoil it for the reader, in my opinion. Though I have to admit I am at times suspicious of the showing/telling rule of fiction writing.
Wole is a well developed and rounded character - he contributes a lot to the story and its twists. The way he deals with the unfortunate character who later dies (and then tells Lola - he did it because of her) - is brutal but also shows his passion runs deep. I like him very much. Lola is perhaps not as well developed, though I like that she is not a 'forming' babe and she is quite sassy in her own way. In terms of setting the scene, there is not as much (embellished) description as one might find in many novels - but then I am not a fan of much description so I did not particularly miss it. I am aware that some readers like the embellishment that detailed description of a scene brings to a story. The novel could do with a bit more editing. There are repetitions of some expressions and some of the 'telling' details (mentioned earlier) could have been deleted on closer editing.
The plot is effective, creating suspense in its twists and turns, particularly with the murder and Wole's arrest. I like the scene where Wole and Lola get close and confide in each other about their pasts. The reader gets to know why Wole is the man he is. However, I do think the part where Wole ends up in Nigeria is slightly unrealistic. Lola is going to Nigeria for three weeks, so my guess would be most men would wait until she gets back to the UK. But one would also have to admit that his chasing her to another continent makes the romance a little juicier.
Another thing I like is the way the love scenes are done. Never thought I would like to read a sex scene without the sex. But Ms Popoola manages to convince me that less is more. So I 'see' the film of sweat on Lola's back after some time spent in Wole's flat overnight and imagine what she and Wole got up to. The author pulls this off effectively at least three or four times, (sometimes a promise of action with some 'rude awakening' of some sort to interrupt proceedings, sometimes - some 'action' - but with readers' imagination to 'fix' the rest. I thought the morality and responsibility of an intimate relationship between two mature adults was very well managed.
Nothing Comes Close is definitely a worthy effort for a debut novel. I know that the author is working on a spin-off about one of Lola's friends - Funmi and her Fiancee Ebuka, and I look forward to reading more of Ms Popoola's work.
©Adura Ojo 2012