Abi Daré’s debut brings a perspective less represented in Nigerian literature, dominated as it is by middle-class city dwellers or ‘Afropolitans’ who find their identity in cultural and geographical indeterminacy. Daré points out in an interview with Newham London that hers was one of the many middle-class Lagosian families who hired house girls for various domestic chores. Daré noticed growing up how poorly treated these girls were: they were not seen as people, but as property devoid of the feelings and desires allowed only to their employers. In The Girl with the Louding Voice, Daré chooses to tell their stories.

The Girl with the Louding Voice is a timeless story about a strong girl chasing her dreams that animates a voice we have never heard before.”

When not being sexually harassed, first by her much older husband and later her master, Adunni is mistreated by her mistress and constantly invalidated for daring to dream of one day becoming a teacher. She finally finds some consolation in a modernised Lagosian, Tia, who clandestinely helps her to apply for a schooling programme and introduces her to the possibility of finding freedom in womanhood. In The Girl with the Louding Voice, Adunni faces up to and ultimately conquers the various obstacles that arise from her intersectional positionality as a young woman hailing from a rural village. 

While Daré takes on a voice that is not hers, she does so in order to unveil one that has hereto been silenced in the canon of African literature and the media landscape more generally. What is most distinctive about this novel is the language. It is written in a Nigerian pidgin better represents the vocabulary and speech patterns of many uneducated citizens. As she becomes increasingly educated, Adunni’s language also becomes increasingly standard. Though the earlier chapters are peppered with her cutting observations about various social norms such as the hypocrisy of gender roles, the later ones are punctuated with general facts about the country that provide a sense of narrative intimacy: we are witnessing her character’s development in real-time.

Though the narrative style contributes to that spirited voice which is so essential to the novel’s main premise, there is something about Adunni’s character which is less convincing and may be attributable to the author’s attempt to embody a voice that is not their own. Adunni is, in short, angelic and single-faceted: she always says and does exactly what we expect her to do in her singular desire to get an education. More recounter than agent, hers is a character who leaves you desiring moral ambiguity and imperfect womanhood.

“It is important to remember that other markets are characterised by a preference for traditional modes of storytelling.”

But through Adunni’s innocent eyes, we are witness to various iterations of Nigerian womanhood in all their wonderful complexity. From her childhood best friend who only dreams of getting a good husband, to the cosmopolitan Tia who struggles with fertility and the meaning of motherhood, Daré creates a textured womanist novel in which Adunni comes into her distinctive voice, a voice that nevertheless remains one of many in a diverse chorus. Populated with memorable characters that boast individuality, the novel’s early scenes in the village are an uncommon delight. That sort of slow living is little represented in Afropolitan literature.

Another element that may irk the more literary-minded is the extroverted plot, a wholly predictable affair that trudges along a well-trodden arc. Though the Western publishing landscape prefers introspective and feminist literary fiction that find its story in the subversive imperfection of their female protagonists, it is important to remember that other markets are characterised by a preference for traditional modes of storytelling. The Girl with the Louding Voice is a timeless story about a strong girl chasing her dreams that finds its uniqueness in how the novel’s stylistic choices animate a voice we have never heard before.

By Jane Link

JANE LINK is a master’s student and an editor for Split Lip MagazineThe Publishing Post, and her own beloved bigblackbooks. When not trying to land her first job in publishing, Jane loves to read historical fiction, self-help, and everything by Black voices. She dreams of one day setting up an independent dedicated to publishing those voices. You can find her on Twitter @verybookishjane.

ABI DARÉ grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and has lived in the UK for over eighteen years. She studied law at the University of Wolverhampton and has an MSc in International Project Management from Glasgow Caledonian University as well as an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. The Girl with the Louding Voicewon the Bath Novel Award for unpublished manuscripts in 2018 and was also selected as a finalist in the 2018 Literary Consultancy Pen Factor competition. Abi lives in Essex with her husband and two daughters, who inspired her to write her debut novel. You can find her @abidaré_author on Twitter.

Abi Daré’s debut charts a new path for Nigerian literatureThe Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Published by Dutton on 4 Feb 2020
Genres: Coming-of-age, African, Literary fiction, Debut, Women's fiction, Urban
Pages: 371
Buy on New Beacon Books
Goodreads
four-stars

The unforgettable, inspiring story of a teenage girl growing up in a rural Nigerian village who longs to get an education so that she can find her “louding voice” and speak up for herself. Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her path, Adunni never loses sight of her goal of escaping the life of poverty she was born into so that she can build the future she chooses for herself - and help other girls like her do the same. Adunni shows us how one courageous young girl can inspire us all to reach for our dreams ... and maybe even change the world.