The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré

The Girl With The Louding Voice is Nigerian-born Abi Daré's debut novel, and a remarkable one it is too, with a spirited young narrator whose voice is not just 'louding' but so powerfully distinctive that by the time I'd finished the book I felt I'd known her for years.

Adunni lives in an impoverished rural village in Nigeria with her father and her two brothers, Born-boy and Kayus. They have a sofa with no cushions and a non-working television for display purposes only. The death of Adunni's adored mother has put a stop to her education, and now aged 14 she is about to become the third wife of Morufu, a middle-aged taxi driver, in exchange for a substantial payment to her father. As the youngest and most recent of the three wives, Adunni is expected to keep quiet, be respectful to the existing wives and most importantly of all, produce a son, which the older wives have so far failed to do. But Adunni has other ideas, and when events take a tragic turn, she finds herself on her way to Lagos with an uncertain and risky future ahead of her.

The Girl With The Louding Voice could so easily have been a deeply depressing read. Adunni's life is one of appalling hardship and ill-treatment, and almost entirely because she is both female and poor - and yet even in her despair, Adunni is so furiously outraged by this, so indefatigably determined, that this doesn't feel at all like a fictional misery memoir. Adunni's intelligence and humour shine from the page. Her observations are sharp, her descriptions of others entertainingly disparaging, and her sense of self-belief is remarkable, so that even when she's at her most powerless, it's impossible not to have confidence in her ability, one way or another, to succeed. Her enthusiasm for education, and the sense of empowerment she gets from it - it's only when she discovers a book of facts about Nigeria in her employer's library that she realises quite how marginalised she is, and her 'louding voice' becomes all the more important.

After being forced to leave school at 11 (by which point she's already so much older than the other children that they've taken to calling her 'Aunty') Adunni's English is idiosyncratic and yet tremendously creative. In her opening paragraphs, she tells us that her father has a way of looking at her 'as if I am carrying shit in my cheeks and when I open mouth to talk, the whole place be smelling of it'. Her broken English is never hard to read, and the vividness of her descriptions and expressions is a delight - and it's interesting to note that her English is much better than her affluent, UK-educated friend's Yoruba. 

While there are certainly some harrowing chapters in The Girl With The Louding Voice, Abi Daré has created a truly powerful force in the form of Adunni, who has immediately become one of my favourite lead characters of recent years, and I found this book an ultimately uplifting one.