Home Page African Writing Online Home Page [many literatures, one voice]  
HomeAbout UsNewsinterviewsSubscribeFictionPoetryThe Call to ActionArtReviews

  A. A. Waberi
  A. Garriga-Lopez
  Alex Smith
  Arja Salafranca

  Bashir A. Adan
  Belinda Otas
  Chika Unigwe
  Chinua Achebe
  Chuma Nwokolo
  Damilola Ajayi
  Diana Evans
  Don Mattera
  Farouk O. Sesay
  Laila Lalami
  Lola Shoneyin
  Maxim Uzoatu
  Memory Chirere
  Mukoma wa Ngugi
  Mwila A. Zaza
  N Brew-Hammond
  Ovo Adagha
  Peter W. Vakunta
  Rose Francis
  Sarah Manyika
  T Mushakavanhu
  Tola Ositelu
  V Ehikhamenor
  Zainabu Jallo
  Zoe Norridge

Submission Guidelines

African Writing Archives




Diana Evans' The Wonder


The Wonder

Author:            Diana Evans
Bond Street Books
ISBN:               978-0-385-66818-7 (0-385-66818-X)

Reviewer:      Tola Ositelu


 The Wonder

Diana Evan’s makes a return to the literary scene with ‘The Wonder’, her long-awaited follow up to her sublime first novel, the 2005 Orange Prize for New Writers winner ‘26A’.  For anyone who fell in love with her debut, the four year wait has been a particularly long one.  Whenever I come across an exceptional breakthrough novel, I have the naughty habit of comparing the author’s subsequent work to their original tour de force.  Lately and all too often, writers who’ve shown such ingenuity in their first book lose some of that spark with the novel that follows.  Thankfully Evans does not disappoint with The Wonder.  True, it does not take your breath away in quite the same manner as ‘26A’ but on its own merit it is a solid work of fiction.

The story is told through the eyes of Lucas, a disaffected and idle 25 year old living on a barge in West London with his stroppy but hardworking older sister Denise circa 1998. New Labour has recently swept into power, Lauryn Hill is ruling the air waves with ‘The Miseducation...’ and Lucas has not got a clue what to do with his life.  He senses perhaps his inability to establish himself in any given field has something to do with the gap left in his life by his father Antoney Matheus – a prominent contemporary dancer in the 1960’s and founder of the successful but short-lived African-Caribbean ‘Midnight Ballet’ dance company. 

Antoney’s absence from Denise and Lucas world is shrouded in mystery.  He is believed to have drowned but Lucas soon discovers that the story is not quite as simple as that.  Denise deals with things by keeping busy as a florist and mentally burying the past.  She is keen to keep the little knowledge she has about their father to herself.  Their maternal grandmother, welsh Toreth, who looks after them after their mother Carla passes away, is equally as tight-lipped.  All the secrecy only heightens Lucas’ curiosity.  By exploring his parents’ remaining relics left on the boat plus some of his own detective work, he unravels a complex world of dance world politics, betrayal, mental illness, unrequited affection, diva antics and the puzzle that is Antoney. 

Handsome, enigmatic and narcissistic, he is a man continually searching for his true self after his own father abandoned him.  At the centre of Antoney’s story is his doomed and turbulent relationship with beautiful Carla; as intense sometimes as it is fragile at other times.  It’s in the depiction of this saga –the troubled dance between pain and reprieve- that the author truly excels.  To paraphrase a Paul Simon lyric, the arc of Carla and Antoney’s love affair is crafted beautifully by Evans.

The Wonder spans several decades but it never loses its continuity or the reader’s attention.  Although the story is not told completely in linear fashion, interspersing flashbacks with Lucas’ melancholy here and now, Evans is mindful of not flitting between the past and present in a confusing way.  There is a vast array of characters that people the book and the author does justice to most of them, even the bit players. 

There’s Oscar, Antoney’s eccentric mentor obsessed with Russian ballet dancer-extraordinaire Vaslav Nijinsky.  Simone, the fiercely ambitious and haughty prima donna of the Midnight Ballet and the only one with any formal classical dance training.  Bluey, the ad hoc percussionist who has acquired his sobriquet because of his piercing azure eyes.  He remains taciturn and hopelessly in love with Carla. Riley, the laconic, hermitical ex-journalist enamoured with all that relates to the Midnight Ballet – especially Antoney. The wonder, whose presence in the dance company is a quiet but sagacious one, always showing up with timely and well needed advice.   The list of weird and wonderful personalities in the book goes on. 

Evans compelling narrative draws them all together, capturing the highs and lows of the Midnight Ballet so well the reader is every bit as involved in the rollercoaster ride as the characters.  She handles just as well the world of late 1990’s London.  The novel is a nostalgia-fest with the references to the now defunct Touch magazine, the rise of UK Garage music and the mention of once-promising-now-all-but-forgotten artists such as soul starlet, Hinda Hicks.

Evans herself was a dancer before finding her present calling as a writer.  Her expertise in this field helps to flesh out the story as she paints as vivid a picture as possible of the kind of dance moves the Midnight Ballet would have performed – even if some of these descriptions might be lost on the untrained. As a whole The Wonder is painstakingly researched from the geographical representations of Antoney’s native Jamaica and Cuba to the nitty-gritty of what happens to a barge that hasn’t been anywhere for a very long time.  But don’t be intimidated by this wealth of information; Evans doesn’t overload us with useless facts in a desperate attempt not to let her newly acquired knowledge go to waste.  Every piece of background information has its place and relevance in The Wonder even if it’s simply to make the sights and sounds of the novel all that more real to the reader.

Evans exploration of the spirit world’s interaction with the physical isn’t as dominant this time around as it was in her previous outing.  Nevertheless there is still a strong presence of the supernatural in The Wonder and Evans can’t resist a touch of magical realism here and there.  At times it can leave the reader slightly befuddled as characters try to make sense of their other-worldly experience but it doesn’t overwhelm the story.  It serves, if anything, to highlight an element of quirkiness in Evan’s writing; not in any way derivative instead perhaps proving that she has established her own distinctive style with the second book.  This might also explain Evans’ continued fascination with mortality.  Her approach to the subject is immersed in a sort of grotesque, elegiac splendour.  No one writes about death quite like Diana.

Apart from the author’s indiscriminate and often unnecessary use of brackets (a faux pas in fiction as far as I’m concerned), The Wonder is a very satisfying and engrossing read from start to bitter-sweet end, confirming Ms Evans hasn’t lost form.  Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait so long for her next novel.
The Wonder is released in Paperback in August.

Tola Ositelu
Tola Ositelu
was born
in London to Nigerian and Ghanaian parents. She studied Law at University and is currently a solicitor in England
Copyright © African Writing Ltd & respective copyright owners. Enquiries to permissions@african-writing.com.