The Premise: The Thing Around Your Neck is Adichie’s short story collection. If you’ve read her novels, the themes will be familiar: navigating familial and romantic relationships in Nigeria with a backdrop of post-colonial politics, as well as incisive ribbing of white condescension towards the whole concept of Africa. Marriage features heavily, with stories focusing on situations like a young woman leaving Nigeria for an arranged marriage and finding that her overly-Americanised husband is not what she thought, as well as wider cultural conflicts between Nigeria and America, not to mention the cultural divide between the different nations of Africa.
Thoughts: I am officially in love with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writing. She’s so incisive, so uncompromising; you could pick up any of the stories here having read her other works and immediately know the writing was by Adichie, and her unique voice really appeals to me. Not that any of this is original; there are plenty of more qualified people out there who can rave about the tremendous worth and readability of this novelist’s work.
An art in which Adichie is highly skilled is the framing of individual experience within a broader cultural and political context. The tragedy of a mother losing her child in The American Embassy is juxtaposed with the oppression of the media in Nigeria, while On Monday of Last Week offers an intriguing contrast of child-rearing ideas in different cultures when it comes to discipline (something that also came up in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, which I read right before this). I don’t know how to explain my love for Adichie’s work without making some kind of annoying or misguided comment on learning about other cultures or something equally mundane, but I do find her representation of the flaws and triumphs of both Nigeria and the west really fascinating. I particularly enjoyed Jumping Monkey Hill, the only story in this collection which places representatives from different African nations together to highlight what divides as well as unites them. The patronising white dude in that particular story seems too awful to believe in, until you flashback to November 2016 and an old, white guy mansplaining racism to Adichie on live television. I could almost hear her eye-roll as I was reading.
Much as I love a really good short story, I tend to struggle with settling down to read a full collection by a particular author. I’m far more likely to enjoy an anthology, with stories by a range of writers (like the excellent YA collections Slasher Boys and Monster Girls and I’ll Be Home for Christmas); in a set by a single author, I feel that the quality is usually far more erratic. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie completely wrecks this philosophy; not only is every story here sublime, they all strike the delicate balance between giving the reader enough closure to provide a satisfying reading experience and leaving you wanting a little more.
In Conclusion: look, it’s just brilliant, okay? Which is a very obvious thing to say, but it’s true. The whole thing is sublime. I am now saving Half of a Yellow Sun, the last Adichie book for me to read, in the manner that you might save a really good bar of chocolate for a day when you really need it. Sadly, my experience of this is that I usually end up eating the chocolate three seconds after buying it, so I will probably have run out of Adichie’s wonderful work by tomorrow.
As a side note, if you share my love for Chimamanda, may I take the liberty of recommending Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me, which comes out in March, as well as Yaa Gyasi’s glorious Homegoing? Trust me: if you haven’t read them, you should.