First of all, I am a huge fan of Toni Kan. Have been right from his days at Hints, when I religiously read his column week after week. Hints magazine was my guilty pleasure and I would indulge in my favorite writers; Helon Habila, Toni Kan and even Chidinma Awa Agwu. I was very excited when The Carnivorous City by Toni Kan was published by Cassava press this year and I really looked forward to laying my hands on it. I previously purchased Nights of the creaking bed by the same author, but it has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while.
Toni Kan writes masterfully in a sort of floral way. There was a strong infusion of poetry in his writing, not like Othuke Ominiabohs does in Odufa, rather Toni Kan weaves the poetry into his prose, giving you sentences that flow like water. He paints Lagos on a colorful canvas of hope, crime, desire, lust and one which depicts success existing side by side with failure.
Toni Kan’s characters are real and relatable, layered and textured just like the city of Lagos, but there was also something inconsistent about them, take for instance Abel; one minute he is very tense, next minute he is quite calm and confident. A character who could not negotiate with a corrupt bank manager suddenly knew how to effortlessly deal with a corrupt policeman? Some of these inconsistencies made the storyline somewhat jagged and irregular peaking at some points and sinking at some others.
I’d say that with this book Toni Kan basically wanted to open Lagos to the readers, lift the veil on the city and expose its seductive allure. Some other crime thrillers have been set in Lagos; very recently Leye Adenle set his novel Easy Motion Tourist in Lagos, but in Carnivorous City it’s almost as if Lagos is the story line and every other thing is in the background. There was quite a lot of emphasis on the city of Lagos by the writer, more than actually telling a story set in Lagos, which I think was deliberately done by Toni Kan. After all, he is referred to as the mayor of Lagos and in this regard, I think that he did a good job. However, for me, something was missing and I did not think the imagery was strong enough. I am not a Lagosian of course (save a few visits here and there) but I think this book should have taken us to Lagos in a way that even a non-Lagosian like myself can see, smell, and taste the city.
There were several parts of this story that did not seem believable to me; for example, I don’t understand how a man goes missing and his wife is able to go swimming, eating, and sightseeing within weeks of his disappearance. That part was a bit off for me, and then also how does Abel know the city of Lagos so very well from just spending a short holiday in Lagos a few years ago? Even knew routes more than Santos who used to ferry his missing brother around Lagos. Also, Toni Kan took quite some liberty with coincidence, which he did need for his story to come together, but I don’t think it helped with believability. I also think certain parts of the story were really stretched, which came across as just trying to fill up pages; I would say that The Carnivorous City should have maybe been a novella (definitely too complex to be a short story, but stretched thin to be made into a novel).
I would say that this book was a fun, easy-to-read book. It came across as effortless, like a friend narrating an experience. There was just the right amount of humor, not too much to distract from the story but just enough to keep you entertained. Toni Kan clearly set out to write about the city of Lagos in a way that may not ring so much with non-Lagosians but would definitely make people who are very familiar with Lagos smile; I do see why he is referred to as the Mayor of Lagos. I know my good friends at The Medina book club in Lagos read this book; I would love to know their thoughts.
Over all I would give this book a 2/5, and let me also point out that the cover is gorgeous which was quite a surprise because Cassava Republic has turned out some not so great covers.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are solely those of its author.