Monday, July 25, 2011

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin instantly intrigued me with its premise, which is quite literally what the title says- a look into the secret lives of four wives of the same man. I admit, I watched Big Love, and the polygamist lifestyle is definitely something that can make for exciting and interesting literature. Shoneyin has a particularly interesting spin on this controversial topic because she sets the book in Nigeria, and makes the fourth and most recent wife a University graduate, Bolanle, two decades younger than her new husband Baba Segi. Bolanle is hiding from her past, and finds a perfect escape in the unhappy marriage, while Baba Segi can't wait to have more children and continue to pass his legacy on. Two years later, Bolanle is still childless and the object of resentment and jealousy for all the other wives. Baba Segi begins to wonder what is wrong with Bolanle, and from there the rest of the mystery unravels.

Shoneyin has a smooth and fluid writing style that is really enjoyable to read. Different chapters are told from the perspectives of various important characters, including all four wives, and although the voices feel similar it was an interesting way to give insight into what each was thinking and their history (and secrets!). The big mystery itself was extremely predictable, and I actually felt that way about the novel as a whole. That said, even despite being pretty certain about how events would unfold, I was able to enjoy reading The Secret Lives of the Four Wives. Shoneyin has created a very interesting dynamic between four very different women, and the reasons each of them came to be a part of the marriage and what each was looking for (and whether they found it). The majority of the characters are unlikable, but at times you can't help but feel bad for them, especially when their actions backfire. Most unlikable for me was Baba Segi himself, and it was hard to imagine that without his money he would have attracted one wife, let alone four. He also seemed pretty ignorant and oblivious at times, but as the story progresses he does develop a little and become more sympathetic.

I found the novel to be a lot easier to read than I expected, and not quite as thought-provoking as I would have assumed. At times, it can be fairly graphic although it all makes sense in context, I wasn't expecting that. I think this is definitely a case where I went into the book thinking it would be one way and found something very different, but definitely enjoyable all the same. Overall, The Secret Lives of the Four Wives is a page turner of a very unexpected sort, despite being set in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar conventions Shoneyin manages to create a story about relationships and secrets that is universal applicable. 

Also Published As: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives 
Release Date: April 8th, 2010
Pages: 304
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

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