Bush Meat by Mandy Sutter (Print)
For Sarah’s family, memories of early Sixties Aba in south-eastern Nigeria are scorched onto their hearts. A days-old burial mound exposed as an ‘exploded diagram’ of bones picked clean by beasts. Adaku the Barbary duck with a ‘melted face’, who was conscripted into friendship by six-year-old Sarah in the first of a lifetime’s unlikely alliances, forged by necessity and relocation. The narcotic puff let out from the freezer in the meat-man’s shack off the Ikot Ekpene road, where Maureen, Sarah’s lonely mother, gave up aspirations to be a ‘proper oil company wife’ to Jim, and risked buying ‘bush meat’. The dry ‘snakeskin’ bark of the old iroko tree on the bend of the town’s river, under whose shade Jim sought sanctuary from people, and whose ‘two long white catkins the tree one day bestowed onto his head like confetti.’
Back home, Jim swaps adventure and agency for woodwork and more whisky. Maureen, denying her love of Igbo crafts and cloth, considers reinventing herself as an Oxfam shop assistant. In the days before her grandmother’s funeral, Sarah finds the platitudes of her father evasive compared to the wisdom and ritual taught by servant Chidike while burying the household monkey. Sarah’s hard-won Nigerian barter goods, a silver thumb-ring and a dare taken to eat fried-fat market ‘snack’, become devalued. At Aba’s Sancta Maria, unaccustomed food was a cone of hot roast groundnuts paid for by a penny with a hole. In Britain, ‘unaccustomed’ means milk with a ‘thickened band of yellow’. Now, the currency is a dare Sarah first honours, then refuses.
As people of that time and place are scattered like those bleached bones, Aba acts as centripetal force on their imagination. Today’s city was a small town the like of which Tim Winton gnaws at from different angles in The Turning. Mandy Sutter’s approach is similarly innovative. Her themes are substitution, racism, and whether the spirit can ever survive transaction.
Mandy Sutter went to school in Nigeria and Bromley but now lives in Yorkshire with her partner and a large black dog called Fable. She has co-written two non-fiction books about the lives of Somali women. Her first novel, Stretching It, was published in 2013, her third poetry pamphlet, Old Blue Car, in 2015. She won first prize in the New Welsh Writing Awards in 2016 for this novel’s opening chapter, ‘Bush Meat’.
‘[In] what is essentially a literary novel [there is] the page-turning quality of a good thriller…. From a very specific time and place, Sutter has fashioned a book that quietly and compellingly reminds us of our common humanity.’ – The Yorkshire Post
‘Sutter’s writing is] atmospheric… wonderfully unexpected… disquieting, touching and darkly humorous’. – Alison Moore, author of the Booker-shortlisted The Lighthouse
‘Triumphs, in its lean prose… humour… [and] evocation of a family divided by sexism and racism in 1960s Nigeria. Stitches together the threads of memory to create a moving tapestry of lost life, building bridges of understanding across time and place.’ – Rory MacLean
The simplicity of the telling… is peppered with… metaphors which… give the language an emotive and sensory strength… A wonderfully constructed and engrossing book, at times poetic, funny and moving as each character is caught in the tension and release game which memory plays with experience.’ – Sue Bonnett, Urthona journal of Buddhism and the Arts, Issue 34
‘Magnificently-understated laugh-out-loud moments that creep up behind you like the monkey on the cover and tap you on the funny-bone…. Spear-sharp perception to cut you neatly to the quick. A centre of gravity – all the characters bearing more than their share. Not many books will make you think so much about the real human contrasts to be tasted in our lopsided world, and I don’t think any will do it with such heartfelt laughs or such aching humanity.’ – Mollowen
‘A world a million miles away and yet only yesterday. Sutter captures it in aspic. Bush Meat is a sensitive, haunting collection that sets personal stories against a background of historical change. It is thoughtful and perceptive. And a real joy to read.’ – Suzy Ceulan Hughes, Gwales.
‘It’s the quality of the writing that really makes the book sing. Sutter’s understatement and restraint, her wonderful handling of place, atmosphere and emotion made me trust every word… Despite tragic happenings, comedy and absurdity are never far away. Like one of the juju practitioners in her stories, she injects magic into everyday life and conjures up time and place and texture by focussing on a single object.’ – Kelpine