The Lagos Wife by Vanessa Walters

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Nicole Oruwari had it all. Even though she took a risk trading the UK for Nigeria for the sake of love, she had two lovely sons, a husband and a life of luxury in Lagos with staff to cater to her every whim. Nicole was the envy of her friends. However, when she vanished without a trace after a boating trip with socialite friends, we will quickly discover that in Lagos everyone plays a role, hiding behind an illusion in which truth is less important than appearances. Nicole’s life was no different.

Nicole’s estranged aunt, Claudine, travels to Nigeria to learn what happened to her niece. The Lagos police, Nicole’s husband, Tonye, and his affluent family have been extremely unhelpful in addressing her disappearance leading Claudine to believe that they are hiding something. Instead, they carry on with their lives and try to convince Claudine to abandon her search. In Nigeria, there is a set way of doing things that involves either praying fervently or waiting for problems to resolve themselves.

The addition of Claudine as amateur sleuth does little to advance the investigation. What it does add is an additional set of family secrets. Claudine and Nicole were estranged, even though Claudine helped raise her niece after her mother’s death from a drug overdose when she was seven. Nicole’s problematic relationship with Tonye and subsequent affair become more evident as details of the months leading up to her disappearance emerge. Two things are sacred to Nigerians: marriage and family. Nicole’s likelihood of escaping her marriage was hindered by her powerful billionaire father-in-law, a former military general.

Though they don’t have to be likeable, main characters should have redeemable traits or something the reader can relate to but Nicole’s lack of substance makes her difficult to relate to. She was trapped in what appeared to be a loveless and abusive marriage but it’s difficult to care about her fate. Instead of addressing her marital challenges she had an affair because she felt irrelevant, unnoticed and was treated as one of the servants instead of a member of the family.

Vanessa Walters‘ novel was inspired by her own experience as the wife of a Nigerian man who had to uproot her life in Britain to pursue love. Walters and her character relied on the Niger Wives, a 1970s-era community of foreign wives in Lagos. In the novel we see the women’s disillusionment as their expectations are shattered as well as the obstacles they face as a result of living in a strict patriarchal society. Ignoring their families’ concerns and sacrificing friendships, careers and independence for love doesn’t result in the adventure they expect.

Walters’ Nigeria is larger than life, a “…sleeping giant of Africa, soon to awake like Sleeping Beauty.” We get a strong sense of the country’s social and political climate, whether it is through the unrelenting quest for wealth and fame or, in stark contrast, the deterioration of infrastructure and pervasive corruption. Lagos is a money-driven city full of dreamers, full of affluent families, elaborate parties, selfies and Instagram posts. A city where the statement, “This is Nigeria, we have a certain way of doing things,” is an answer to almost every question and often an excuse for apathy.

Unfortunately, repetition, excessive wordiness and a thin plot undermine what could have been an intriguing take on adjusting to life in a foreign country set against a murder mystery. We are presented a family drama that lacks build-up, and suspense instead of a taut, gripping crime novel. Drama and intrigue involving Tonye’s family and the Niger wives overshadow the actual crime. Walters has written two young adult novels and this might explain her inexperience in the tight plotting that we’ve come to expect from a crime novel.

The Lagos Wife is the author’s first adult novel and has some redeeming qualities. In addition to its unique setting, a number of important themes are discussed including the trauma that slavery continues to inflict down the generations, traditional, patriarchal societies, the difficulties of marriage particularly when children are involved, and cultural isolation. The Lagos Wife provides an interesting glimpse at a different culture and is an ideal light read which doesn’t ask much of its reader.

For another crime novel set in Nigeria, try the more action-packed A Good Day to Die by Amen Alonge.

Penguin
Print/Kindle
£8.99

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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