PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


A Challenging Story that Usurps Convention: 'Memoirs of a Porcupine'

Unconventional fiction from a rising African star.

Memoirs of a Porcupine

Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Length: 154 pages
Author: Alain Mabanckou
Price: $15.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-04

this book, it's written in a very distinctive style, maybe I'll write my review the same way, there are no periods or capital letters or any punctuation really except for commas, you read this review you'll get an idea of how the rhythm flows, sure it's an easy style to parody, it's up to the reader to decide whether it's engaging and interesting or just incredibly annoying, after all in order to justify such a break with expected norms there needs to be a substantial thematic or even narrative payoff, maybe that's not the case here, it's up to you, some people will like it some won't

the author Alain Mabanckou is from the Congo, he's written some well-received books like African Psycho and Broken Glass, his work is well known in France but at the moment he lives and teaches in LA, this might be the first introduction some American readers have to his work, say what you will about it, this is certainly a unique book

the story focuses on a porcupine who is the spiritual guide or double or servant of a boy named Kibandi, he is a village boy whose father was something of a villain and now Kibandi is following in his footsteps, at age ten he undergoes a ritual by which the porcupine is bound to him and must carry out his wishes, which are generally of the murderous kind, this storyline plays off of traditional African village beliefs or such is the suggestion in the book anyway, when a person dies it is often seen as the result of malicious forces and there is a rich tradition of supernatural explanations as to how those forces work, and why

really though the storyline here is almost inconsequential, the characters are barely delineated, there is Kabandi and his mother and father and a few of his victims, but hardly anyone is on the page long enough to register in traditional terms of personality or motivation, the only real character here is the porcupine, he remains nameless until the very end of the book as he sits at the foot of the baobab tree relating his story, all of the events and characters are filtered through his consciousness, which is marked by his animal-ness if you will, sometimes this is amusing but often it undermines the reader's expectations, big surprise there right

so then what we have here is a very "voicey" story indeed, one which is often exhausting in its relentless adherence to a nonstandard, nonlinear form of storytelling, especially as the narrator is wont to go wandering off on any number of tangents, ths is especially true early on in the book, which makes it more than a little difficult to engage with the flow of the story

what's interesting though is that at a certain point somewhere in the second half of the book, which isn't that long though it feels longer, the narrative begins to gain some pace, this happens once the porcupine's rather meandering background story is dispensed with and we get on with the business of Kibandi and his porcupine and their nefarious deeds and the fallout that accompanies them, some of these episodes are quite chilling, and the insouciant tone of the murderous narrator only adds to the effect

we are also in the presence of a mightily lyrical porcupine, one whose descriptive abilities are impressive, as for example "…the smell of the rotting corpse got so bad in the room they had to leave the doors and windows open for thirty days and thirty nights, it only cleared the day the old lady died, a grey Monday, a Monday when even the flies couldn’t get off the ground, Séképembé seemed empty, the sky so low a human could almost have plucked a cluster of clouds without even raising his arm…" and so forth, I'll end the quote there, if I waited for the sentence to end then this review would be as long as the book and even then there would be no period

here's another nice bit, "not a day of his life went by without my master thinking of the night his father sold on his destiny to us, visions of the initiation haunted him, he was back in Mossaka, aged ten, a night full of terrors, of flying bats, when Papa Kibandi woke him without a word to his mother, and dragged him off into the forest, and even before he left the house, little Kibandi witnessed something so incredible, he had to rub his eyes several times…" and so on

so you see, this book is really something, but whether it's something great or just greatly annoying must be left up the reader to decide, for my part, it's the kind of book I respect more than enjoy, its self-consciousness holds the reader at arm's length, one never forgets that one is reading a book, a fictional representation of another creature's experience, disbelief is never entirely suspended, that’s not really my favorite way of approaching a novel, but variety of experience is why we keep listening to and reading stories, if they were all the same than what would be the point


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.