... sharply observed ... It's a striking setup: as if The Other Black Girl strolled into Sex and the City ... The characterization is sophisticated and culturally adept if slightly depressing. Unlike Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other, which navigated similarly tricky cultural waters, there's not as much love, support or joy among the Black British women in Wahala – just constant striving. And the white secondary cast lacks nuance. Martin and Didier, Simi and Boo's white husbands, are mostly supportive and perfect ciphers, loving foils to the missing or disappointing Nigerian men whose emotional absences haunt the story...But that's a relatively minor issue. Men are mostly a sideshow here ... Where things break down a bit, is in the gap between Wahala's framing and its delivery. The prologue certainly raises expectations that the novel will be a literary or domestic thriller or contain elements of suspense like Big LIttle Lies or The Other Black Girl, and part of the journey will be in finding out how their glossy lives took such a wrong turn. But the prologue promises one thing— opening on a scene of a woman in extreme distress— and the book delivers another almost until the very end. How the danger and fear are manifest is uneven at best. We toggle between the different women's stories in various chapters as they go about their daily lives. But we're rarely privy to the interior thoughts or perspective of one of the most important characters till the end when, as in a Lifetime movie, their dysfunction really jumps out. Until that point, the creepiness is pretty understated ... mainly a social novel crossed with a comedy of manners, with fabulous Anglo-Nigerians in the lead. Luckily, that's a compelling blend. May is a masterful chronicler of Black upper-middle-class life and ennui in Britain. Wahala is both great fun and extremely smart in how it captures some of the central issues in modern city living: women's evolving roles in home and work, interracial relationships and multicultural identity, the current of competition that runs through so many friendships and daily interactions and, most of all, how easily intimacy can morph into enmity.
The wants, needs and ambitions of Ronke, Boo and Simi are recognisable and relatable, while their partners are simply props. It certainly works, if you read it as a nod to how all three women are seeking to fill the space left by missing or absent fathers – but at the same time leaves the arcs of Boo and Simi’s white husbands, Martin and Didier, and Ronke’s boyfriend, Kayode, somewhat unfinished ... May’s skill for weaving together entertaining personal problems with a wistfulness for Nigerian food, customs and culture is unparalleled ... However, as evocative as her writing is, it cannot mask that Wahala doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of the prologue. The ending feels hurried compared with the rest of the book, scuppering the explanations and revelations we’ve been chasing. Elsewhere, while we are offered a glimpse of the stark class divide that rules over Nigeria, commentary on colourism is minimal at best ... Even so, Wahala is hard to put down – an energetic, entertaining interrogation of fundamentally flawed friendship and how uncomfortable emotions such as jealousy and bitterness are not always easy to confront, yielding trouble indeed.