Wahala, the debut novel of Nigerian-British author Nikki May, hit the book shelves in January this year. It follows the friendship of three women as they face turning points in their lives.
The setting is both familiar and aspirational to a world emerging from lockdown: The cosy, yet stifling, comfort of home and the allure of glamorous, pre-COVID bars in London.
Wahala means “trouble” — a fitting title for a storyline which has sparked Sex and the City comparisons. Wahala, however, rises above the TV series: It is a lot more grounded in race politics and a lot less flippant. Think of it as a Sex and the City that you can actually relate to!
Boo, Simi and Ronke have been friends since university when they united over their mixed-race parentage. Now, each is struggling with secrets and resentments in their romantic relationships, and the importance of motherhood in their lives.
Simi misses her husband who’s working in New York but doesn’t share his conviction that they’re ready for a baby. Boo’s life with her husband and daughter looks picture-perfect to Ronke, who dreams of a happily-ever-after with the latest in a string of unreliable boyfriends. But Boo, bored and angry with her life in the suburbs, is desperate for an out.
This tinderbox situation explodes when Isobel, Simi’s old friend from Nigeria, arrives in London. She seeks out their friendship, causing plenty of wahala under the guise of sisterhood.
Soon, the friends are embroiled deeper into deceit and turmoil. They turn on each other and chaos breaks out. When the storm reaches a climax, they discover that they are bound not just by identity and friendship but by a crime in their families’ past and another in their present.
Nikki May: More about the author
Wahala is Nikki May’s first book. A boisterous lunch she had with friends formed the inspiration for this hit novel which is due to become a BBC TV series.
Nikki May was born in Bristol and raised in Lagos. She ran an advertising agency in London before she started writing. She lives in Dorset, in the United Kingdom, with her husband and dogs, and keeps fans up-to-date on her Twitter account.
Quotes from ‘Wahala’
“Boo was a little concerned by her daughter’s bloodthirstiness but it could be worse. She could be putting a pink crop top on a blonde doll. Having a little despot was much more progressive.”
On monotony and dissatisfaction:
“If you don’t want to be bored, you need to stop being boring.”
On mixed-race heritage and racism:
“Simi believed it was impossible to be racist if you were mixed. If only the world would shag racism into oblivion.”
Is ‘Wahala’ for you?
You can’t call Wahala a crime thriller but it’s pacy and there is more than enough drama and mystery to pull you to the end. Tantalising clues are littered throughout the novel and come together in a shocking finale. Two interlinked crimes are laid bare, and secret relationships are revealed.
This is a fun, glitzy story that has just enough day-to-day mundaneness to be relatable. Needless to say, women in their thirties will particularly identify with the characters’ existential dramas of motherhood and marriage.
The three main characters are hardly ladies who lunch; they all have careers but finding satisfaction with family life, with their friends’ support, is their main preoccupation in the book.
People with mixed heritage and Africans who have spent time in Europe will also recognise themselves in a way that is validating and at times humorous but never deprecating or cliched. Neither Africanness nor racism drives the narrative. Relationships have the starring role, making Wahala both poignant and relatable.
Wahala is published by Doubleday and retails for R297 at Exclusive Books.