The Girl With The Louding Voice is a novel that will make you make you angry and make you weep. Yet occasionally it will give you a reason to smile.
Angry because Abi Daré’s narrative depicts a society which views women as little more than a product. A thing to be traded; married off to pay debts and turned into a baby production factory. Any woman who doesn’t get pregnant can fall victim to peddlers of superstitious beliefs that she is inhabited by demons.
Tearful because The Girl With The Louding Voice is the tale of Adunni, a young girl married off at 14 years old to the local taxi driver in return for “Agric fowl, very costly. Bag of rice, two of it. And money.” Instead of completing her education and fulfilling her dream of becoming a teacher she is abused by her new husband. Though she flees from her marriage she ends up beaten and starved in Lagos as a domestic slave in the home of Big Madam, a business woman, and her lecherous husband Big Daddy.
A reason to smile? Yes, astonishing as it might seem in novel of so much despair, Abe Daré does offer moments of touching humour as when Adunni pretends to be a teacher, using the trees and leaves in the village as her pupils and admonishing them when they get their sums wrong. Or later, in Lagos, when she tries to use some newly-learned complex words from “The Collins” dictionary to impress a woman who has be-friended her, but completely muddles up the context of her new vocabulary.
The humour is an added reason for us to root for Adunni, willing her to succeed against all the odds.
Her friends in the village cannot understand why she is not delighted at the prospect of marriage to a rich man. But Adduni wants more from life. She aspires to be an educated confident woman, using her “louding voice” to share her perspective on the world. But her desire is not for herself alone, it is to give hope to other people:
I want to enter a room and people will hear me even before I open my mouth to be speaking. I want to live in this life and help many people so that when I grow old and die, I will still be living through the people I am helping.
The Girl With The Louding Voice brings to light important issues of forced marriages and domestic slavery, both still prevalent in Nigeria. Though we experience these through the voice of one young girl, the book also makes it evident there are thousands of Adduni’s in the country.
Abi Daré places Adunni’s situation in this broader context by prefacing many chapters with extracts from a book in Big Madam’s house. The Book of Nigerian Facts, supposedly published in 2014, is fictitious but the facts it conveys are real. The book teaches Adduni about the contradictory nature of Nigeria — the fact its oil deposits have made it the richest country in Africa yet an estimated 17% of girls in the country are married before the age of 15 and approximately 15 million of its children are victims of human trafficking.
The factual content is sobering but never detracts from the vivacity of the prose. Abi Daré captures the individuality and exhuberance of her young narrator’s language with its broken English, colourful descriptions, texture and rhythm:
Her face is looking like one devil-child vex with her and paint it with his feets. On top the orange powder on her face, there is a red line on the two both eyebrows which she is drawing all the way to her hears. Green powder on the eyelids. Lips with gold lipstick, two cheeks full of red powder.
It’s the language of The Girl With The Louding Voice that drew me in as much as its tale of courage and friendship. Adunni’s voice jumps off the page in a way that reminded me of my first reaction to reading The Colour Of Purple by Alice Walker.
There are hints of caricature in the portrayals of Big Madam and Big Daddy, and some touches of melodrama but that doesn’t take away from the force and power of this novel. It was one of the best novels I read in 2020.
The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré: EndNotes
Abi Daré grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. She studied law at the University of Wolverhampton and has an M.Sc. in International Project Management from Glasgow Caledonian University. She then completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University of London. Abi now lives with her family in Essex.
The Girl with the Louding Voice is her debut novel. It was inspired by a conversation between the author and her eight-year-old daughter about young girls like her who worked unpaid as housemaids. It won The Bath Novel Award in 2018 and was selected as a finalist in The Literary Consultancy Pen Factor competition in 2018.
The novel was published in the UK by Spectre in February 2020.