Afro Poetry Times
Book Title: The Madhouse
Author: TJ Benson
Publisher: Penguin Fiction (South Africa) R280.00
TJ Benson, first runner-up for the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize and finalist for the 2017 Brittle Paper Award, has released his debut novel, The Madhouse.
The book is a surrealist painting of an unorthodox Nigerian family set during the 1980s and ‘90s in Kaduna, the city Benson moved to after selling the rights to the novel. This layered and complex literary drama blends the reality and politics of the time with otherworldly elements — such as two brothers, Max and André, who get sucked into one another’s dreams, while André’s dead twin haunts him.
Even the foster daughter, Ladidi, has a mystical air.
Yet this unusual and immersive speculative fiction tale got its start in a very different genre.
“I had consumed too much Harlequin novels as a teenager,” Benson says, “and I had noticed they all stopped at ‘happily ever after’, so I started asking myself ‘What does happily ever [after] entail in Nigeria? ’”
An understandable question for a man who lost his parents at 10 years old, leaving him bouncing between other families.
Benson’s novel is anything but a Harlequin romance, saturated in real-life grit.
Two middle-class lovers, Sweet Mother, a minister’s daughter, and Shariff, raised Muslim, find themselves accidentally living together.
The pair gradually come together, their union bringing forth art, music and children, while redefining family roles.