• Bochra Boudarka

Review: The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

I want more than just a voice, I want a louding voice. I want to enter a room and people will hear me even before I open my mouth to be speaking.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, a book that holds the 2018 Bath Novel Award for emerging writers, is an impressive debut; well-written, with a compelling protagonist and empathetic relationships.

The Girl with the Louding Voice is a coming-of-age story set in Nigeria. Adunni is our fourteen-year old protagonist and the first-person narrator of this story. We follow her as she seeks an education and independence, something her late mother instilled in her. However, after her mother’s death, she is coerced into a marriage to a much older man. His wealth and status is what leads to her father’s agreement, but Adunni does not experience this wealth, nor is it utilised towards achieving her dreams. Instead, she is expected to obey her husband and give him sons, is subjected to marital rape, and faces abuse from her husband’s other wife.

A series of events lead to her escape to Lagos where she becomes a servant to a wealthy woman. Soon she realises that her new life comes with its own suffering; her wages are withheld from her and her mistress is cruel and volatile. Despite all these hardships, she does not lose her yearning for an education, and fights hard for it. One might fear that this story would become overly predictable, but Daré has written the story of a fourteen-year-old forced to grow up too quickly. Adunni’s voice is beautifully captured and we are able to envision her at her core; dreamy, impulsive, emotional, brave. She is a believable heroine, a flawed adolescent, who is simultaneously young and old for her age, and that makes the story all the more engaging as she dominates the narrative with her strength and spirit.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of the book is, quite literally, the voice of Adunni – written in a broken format of English. The author has said that she did not want to write in ‘pidgin English’ spoken by many Nigerians, but wanted to find Adunni a voice that is wholly her own. It takes some getting used to, as the entire book is written from Adunni’s perspective, therefore every moment is narrated in her way of speaking. The audiobook version of this story, beautifully narrated by Anjoa Andoh, is one that makes the difference in dialect easier to absorb.

This book holds a close lens to the problem of child exploitation and domestic slavery in Nigeria. It highlights the suffering of women, with Adunni wondering “Why are the women in Nigeria seem to be suffering for everything more than the men?”, but also shows how women can often be the abusers in a story too. Ultimately, it does well to show a strong young girl who is determined to build a better life for herself and genuine relationships, despite living in a culture designed to keep her from succeeding.

Sometimes I wish I can just believe for a good life and it will magic and happen for me, just like that. But maybe, to believe it in my mind is the start, so I nod my head, drag it real slow up and down as I am saying: Tomorrow will be better than today. I am a somebody of value.

By Bochra Boudarka