Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou
Translator Helen Stevenson
Source library book
A couple of years ago I review another book by Alain Mabanckou Broken Glass .Since I read that a couple more of his novels have appeared in English translation so when I saw this one in the library I decide it was time to review him again ,as his style of writing had intrigued me the first time I read it .He still lives in the California where he is a professor of french ,he is also quite a controversial writer for how he sometimes shows a lot of african problems are of their own making .
So to the book Memoirs of the Porcupine won the Prix Renudot a prize that has a number of big name winners in the past . Memoirs of a porcupine is the story of a porcupine he is the spirit of Kibandi a young eleven year old that is facing his journey into adult life .His father has taken him in to the forest to drink a liquid that had been stuck in the ground for many years and thus the narrator the porcupine appears .After this Kibandi turns to killing people and this is the account of this murderous spree by his spirit animal and Kibandi where they went through the village killing people ,now his master is dead the porcupine feels free to tell their story .Now the porcupine has helped in the killing using his special talents but he was Kibandi spirit so had too .As the memoir moves on he also starts to calls himself later in the book Broken glass eluding to the book I read before .
I wasn’t present at Kibandi’s birth ,not like some doubles ,peaceful doubles they’re called who are born the same day as the child ,and watch them grow ,their masters never see them ,they only intervene when necessary ,when their initiate falls ill ,for example or has a jinx put on them ,it’s a dull life being a peaceful double ,in fact I don’t know how they stand it .
I was reminded of the Pullman’s book here ,but also Mabanckou sly humour at times .
Now like broken glass there is a very loose feel to Mabanckou prose style almost like it is written by a porcupine or a drunk , a certain beat to his work as you read .I ve read a couple of interviews and articles about him like this one in the economist ,and I can feel a rumba beat that he says he so enjoys in this book , but also a passion for clever word play ,a style that seems simply written but is deep oh and he doesn’t like full stops there isn’t any in this book but after a time you get how the grammar works .Again he has been compared to Beckett as I often see (although part of me wonders if any one you can’t easily put in a box are compared to Beckett or Faulkner ,you often see them mention ) .But having read Ahmadou Kourouma waiting for the wild beast s , I feel Mabanckou is firmly placed in the Franco african school of writing some parts of this book echo Kourouma style wise and even further back to other writers I ve read .This is where elements of magic realism ,surrealism but also a large chunk of oral tradition the tales told by the village type ,the parables to warn of where you can go wrong .The heart of this book is rooted in African myth the myth of animal doubles has appear in many places around the world even Philip Pullman used the in his “his dark materials ” books .As well as looking back he is looking in the present part of me wonder if Kibandi story is partly about the child solders and the violence that have been seen in the region of Africa in the where Alain Mabanckou is from .neighbouring Uganda the lords resistance army has used very young men to run riot and kill millions .Not overly sure but there is a feel Kibandi story is a warning of what can happen when child on the verge of young adulthood can go the wrong way .Again I leave his book wanting to try more of this unusual writer ,but also maybe wanting to read earlier Franco african writers to help better place him as a writer (that said I have since I read this ,I have read Mongo Beti book King Lazarus a long out of print book from the african writer series ).
Do you have a favourite french language African writer ?
Have you read Mabanckou ?