switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > Wife of the Gods

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
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Feb 26, 11

Read in May, 2009

The story of a West African detective in Ghana begins with a weak prologue--a nightmare squeezed from the pages of former dime-store books. The following (first) chapter opens with promise--a dead body. Then the author tries too hard to tell the story. That's the problem--too much telling and not enough showing. The sentences read like announcements or headlines and the prose is shopworn and musty, hauled from a high-school creative writing course. The author is also on an adverb and gerund frenzy (in the same sentences!), which bogs down the narrative to a watery substance. Sentences are lifeless and clunky and contain no fresh turns of phrase or descriptive power. This is a typical passage, not an exception to the rule:

"He loved to sit on her lap with his head resting against her while he played with the gold necklace she always wore and never removed. The pendant was a little butterfly, because she loved butterflies."

The author states the obvious ad nauseam. Here I go again with another example (he is describing cars now):

"...and the most ostentatiously obnoxious of them all, Hummers."

We know that Hummers are ostentatious and obnoxious.

"Razor-thin" and "the broiling sun" or "the scorching sun." Physical descriptions are jejune and often inserted into unmanageable sentences:

"Her forehead was high, as were her lovely cheekbones, her nose straight yet flared, and her lips were rich."

"Sometimes, when she looked at her son, at his tallness, his strength, his beauty, she felt a jolt, a shock as she realized that she had him and that he was real and not just a vision. He was her jewel. He made her heart hurt."

"With the vision of a hawk..."


"...it stabbed Efia like a red-hot dagger and she jumped visibly."

"It was tearing at her heart..."

"She was pretty, with a heart-shaped face and lovely skin."

The writing is wholly derivative and amatuer; it reads like a first draft-(the stuff you write before you clean it up.) The tone is flat and without a style. Aesthetics are absent--the author fails to convey the sensory component of writing--the power of choice words and the art of connecting them in vital and vigorous passages.

The locale and subject matter of the novel enticed me--I love novels with an African geography and culture. But this book had no seasoning--just sentences sputtering with a dull thud. I thought it would have piquant passages depicting an exotic ambience. Instead, you get trumpeted exposition that prevents a mood from emerging and an atmosphere from ascending. No nuance, no style. There is an agenda here--to educate us about the disenfranchised culture of a marginalized community. It is as if he forgot he was writing a novel and began writing a polemical magazine article about the trials and tribulations of living in Arccra (capital of Ghana)--but there was no flair there. Even as a magazine article, it would flail. So many lost opportunities to create a rich atmosphere with a tasty blend of textures. But there is no sensory substance or strength to the prose. Sentences are hamstrung together with a fingerless hand.

The story is diluted by the various loud pronouncements of Ghanian life. (Subtlety is absent.) What could have been charming was churning and dull. The author never leaves your side--and he doesn't trust us to get it unless he delivers it with hammer-blows and drives it on with re-treads. Tension was absent, suspense was suspended for lack of imagination. The novel isn't taut--it's trite and forced.

The dialogue/banter between Darky Dawson and his colleagues is puerile and corny. Again, no texture--just banal bluster. This is the second book from the Vine shelf this month (that I have read) that was marketed improperly. It was described as "crisp." And "great artistry." Crisp? An English professor or competent editor would keel after seeing these unwieldy, soggy sentences. Apparently, editing wasn't a priority with this novel. Great artistry? Who is writing these blurbs? It was pallid, ready-made. It is written like a drugstore-shelf mystery--clichéd and hokey. Are publishers getting more cynical or just more desperate?

The only positive strokes I can offer are to workshop it. This reads like an early draft. It needs several more to trim the fat and polish the prose. Although my review is blunt and brutal, it is honest. I see only 4 and 5-star reviews (so far) and I am puzzled--did they receive an improved manuscript? A later draft? I risk being highly unpopular with my solitary and excoriating criticism. Negative reviews are not appreciated by many voters on Amazon, but astute literature lovers may welcome a frank assessment.
For a smart, polished, and contoured African detective story, read A Beautiful Place to Die: A Novel, by Malla Nunn.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Friederike Knabe Betsey, I read and reviewed it today (amazon and here) I was a bit more geerous than you and enjoyed the book overall. See my review.

switterbug (Betsey) I enjoyed your review more than the book! :--)

Friederike Knabe switterbug (Betsey) wrote: "I enjoyed your review more than the book! :--)"

Haha - these things can happen as we know...

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