If I am unsure how to assess Kola Boof’s intriguing, flawed novel The Sexy Part Of The Bible that is in part a reflection of the novel’s own lack of certainty. It is a political novel, feminism and especially racial/cultural issues are the core, enfolded in partial stories of other meanings. Indeed as I type I realise that partial in both its meanings is the key to Boof’s book.
Politics aside, to begin with, as much as Boof allows, The Sexy Part Of The Bible is fragmentary in plot, subject and storytelling. The narrator, Eternity Frankenheimer, is a clone. Her ‘parents’ are scientists at an HIV/AIDS clinic in the West African state of West Cassavaland. They are white, Eternity is black. Very black. Her colour is stressed and repeated and obsessed over throughout The Sexy Part Of The Bible, as is that of virtually every other non-white character, in a manner that sometimes distracts.
Eternity becomes a model, and becomes increasingly involved with Cassavan hip hop superstar Sea Horse Twee in a series of equally erotic and disturbing encounters.
Examining the plot further quickly reveals the most obvious flaws of this novel, its failure to take a firm hold on any of its ideas. Too many potential routes are opened up and then ignored. The idea of unscrupulous white scientists researching on poor black AIDS patients away from the legal constraints of the West is hinted at then dropped. The SF reader anticipating some variant on Bug Jack Barron or Never Let Me Go will be disappointed, Kola Boof shows no inclination to delve this way.
Female Circumcision is mentioned, Eternity was taught the technique in her previous life, but its consequences ignored. A chapter where Eternity is haunted by her memories of being shown circumcision on dolls ends with her anxiously hoping Sea Horse won’t mind that she isn’t circumcised. Then when they finally have sex there is no mention of it. Such half-developed strands are the principal reasons The Sexy Part of The Bible fails as a novel.
Amidst these partial fragmented ideas are multiple poetic, visceral scenes. Boof can certainly write a non-clichéd sex scene, desire is represented in some of the best passages here.
Anger is probably the other emotion Boof is most concerned with. Eternity’s source mother Orisha is beaten to death by a crowd angered at her condemnation of their use of chemical means to lighten black skin. Ironically when a film is made of this episode Hollywood insists on a light brown skinned actress to play ‘coal black’ Orisha to righteous anger amongst Cassavans.
I began by saying politics aside, but really almost all that Boof has written here is political and impossible to separate. It is partial in taking sides. If she hasn’t really explored issues like Circumcision she has put them out there, through her character the reader has been made to think about it, arguably in my case thinking about it much more than Eternity does. When Sea Horse tries to make Eternity his fourth wife her conversations with his other wives convey much to think about regarding African masculine attitudes to women.
And when, finally, violence reemerges the Western capitalist response is both grossed over and yet made explicit in a few lines.
Ultimately, for me The Sexy Part of The Bible is a novel of contradictions and oppositions. It is a novel with which to nod in pensive agreement, to bridle at and resent, to be confused by whilst considering it overly simplistic. Scenes of poetic prose dissolve into clumsiness, repetitions reinforce aspects of the colour balance yet the constant description of Oluchi tribeswomen as topless becomes single character stereotype. On the otherhand Eternity’s scientist creater balances the suggestive surname Frankenheimer with ‘Richie Cunningham’ looks to useful early effect. His wife Juliet we gradually learn was once Julian, but accepted his offer of gender surgery in order to consummate their love. This resolution of homosexuality and the casual gender change are problematic to say the least.
Even on race, where Boof is clearly more knowledgeable than me, there are glaring issues. The emphasis on Eternity’s intense ‘blue black’ and ‘true’ colour in conjunction with the condemnation of the desire to conform to external colour and beauty standards could be read as arguing for a racial purity that concerns me. Eternity and Sea Horse both have lovers of various shades, and children with them, miscegenation is not disapproved of explicitly therefore, but Boof muddies the waters, and it is unclear how much is deliberate and how much her unsure handling of vast ideas.
Kola Boof’s overall conceit is of an Africa cloned from the original Africa by the white man, by unscrupulous science and callous commercial interest. She also suggests African complicity in part of this. Unfortunately too many unresolved sidelines, and a tendency to shallow analysis of certain ‘controversial’ aspects weaken her case.
I’m glad I read The Sexy Part Of The Bible, the personal internal dialogues that ensued from it are a good thing, but I can’t escape the sense that on purely literary terms it is at best a partial failure. As polemic though? Who am I to say that a novel that provoked in me so much thought (regardless of agreement or not) has failed?
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