The seventh out of eleven books I had to read from NetGalley which are out this month (as of writing and publishing this review, I’m in the middle of two more so haven’t done quite as badly as I feared, although the two remaining ones are substantial works of non-fiction). This is another excellent debut novel; I’ve been so lucky to read a few really good ones recently, thanks to NetGalley.

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?”

(18 October 2021)

I’ve never been a loquacious person, but once I start talking it’s hard to stop. It’s as though someone has reached into a bathtub and pulled out the plug, and now all the murky, dirty water is whirling beyond my control.

Yinka is 31 and, at the moment, she has a job in the operations department of an investment bank. She split up with her last boyfriend a good while ago but no one has come along in the meantime. When her cousin announces her engagement and her mum and aunties keep praying – out loud, in public – for her to find a husband (or, even more importantly, a “huzband”, one approved of by said mum and aunties and preferably put forward by one of them), she formulates a plan. Soon she’s busy eschewing chicken shops and pretending she can cook Nigerian food, casually “borrowing” her best friend’s clothes and, in short, pretending to be who she isn’t. When things start to go wrong, she’s still bluffing, this time to her friends as well as her family. What’s left to divert from her usual ways – oh, drinking and messing around on men’s sofas – because Yinka’s a Christian and she doesn’t believe in getting drunk and sex before marriage. Is it time for her friends – with her White workmates and her Black best friend joining up against her – to stage an intervention? Can she pull herself back from the brink?

I’ve seen some Nigerian and Nigerian British bloggers expressing disappointment with this book as showing a stereotyped view of Nigerian British people – especially the older generation, with its leagues of aunties demanding respect. I am of course in no way qualified to discuss this judgement, and it’s obviously a valid one if it’s made from inside the community this book describes. I would say that as a non-Nigerian British reader, I certainly didn’t think any less of the characters or of the Nigerian British community for real having read this book, which I think a load of negative stereotypes would risk doing. The aunties chimed with my reading of books by South Asian writers, also prone to them, and the characters felt really well-differentiated to me, with different motives and outcomes, so not a homogeneous whole, and you could see why they acted as they did. And I loved so much about this book …

I loved that Yinka’s Christianity was shown as a strong point and a good thing, not something to be chipped away at. A good lot of the characters volunteered at an outreach centre for the homeless and, while that was a plot device to have them interact, too, it felt authentic – and men took on caring roles there, too. I loved her friends and her sister, and the way they showed different ways to be and to be successful in career and family terms. I really loved that there was an aromantic character – and that they explained the difference from asexuality and were left space to be their own self. There was LGBTQI representation in the gay workmate and his stable relationship, too, just there, being happy, no trauma and drama. I loved how Yinka’s colleagues modelled how to be friends with her, listening to what she said and buying her gifts that carefully reflected her culture. I loved that it’s more than a rom-com, that her friends and friendships and cousins are more important than any man.

I especially loved that it was set around New Cross, Peckham and other bits of South London I know well (although now, when they’re a bit more fancy – Yinka is not wrong when she’s surprised to find a Costa full of hipsters on Peckham High Street). It also has a lovely description of the therapeutic relationship as Yinka struggles to tell her dark-skinned counsellor about the colourism she’s experienced. Blackburn almost pushes her behaviour too far, as well: we see her silencing a celebration and bemoaning that no one supports her, and she can be very unlikeable, but in my opinion, Blackburn pulls that back from the brink.

Now we’ve got to the nub about running round South London as a young Black woman and exploring therapy – is this another “Queenie”, then? No, it’s not – and is there not room for more than one novel about young Black women running around South London, just as we have lots of books about middle-class, artistic, White families or Irish millennials. Let’s celebrate and make room for more books about more kinds of people. Another excellent debut novel and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Thank you to Penguin for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband” is published today, 31 March 2022.

Another Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment: this is the third novel in a row that has portrayed a (very positive) therapeutic relationship. I’m pretty sure not all the novels I read feature someone going to see a therapist or counsellor, but who knows!