The Profound Pleasure of Slow Reading



Taahir Kamal Chagan

This is not a book review. It’s more of a public announcement that history has been made. It’s more of a celebration, that the birth of a truly 21st Century Novel has taken place. And we think that it’s about time.

The Age of Magic is the first novel in 7 years by the internationally acclaimed Nigerian poet and novelist, Ben Okri. The work is an interesting fusion of prose, poetry, philosophy, metaphysics, and meditations on life and travel.

We at Odd Magazine think that it will ultimately be seen as one of the giants of 21st Century literature in the decades to come. Read on to find out why.

It’s a piece of work that makes you feel good as you read it. Its enchanting, casting a spell over you. You’ll find yourself nodding along, and pausing here and there to stare out the window at a sunset or at a beautiful flower, or marvel at your partner or your children, in awe, smiling to yourself, mystified and enchanted.

The prose is like poetry, stripped-down, minimalist, but packed tightly with… life. And structurally, the book is very well crafted and perfect for the modern reader, divided into seven parts, with very short chapters in each of these seven mini-books.

Despite its modern structure, The Age of Magic is a novel that is meant to be read slowly, like poetry. This is not just because the prose is exquisite, but because the enchantments hidden inside the book need time to cast their spells over your soul, and the seeds of the ideas need space to blossom in your mind.

One reviewer wrote: “This book is an antidote to rushing”, and we think that this is perfect for the world we find ourselves in. Perfect to discover the profound pleasure of slow reading, especially in this fast-paced world of ours.

Born in Nigeria, Ben Okri was awarded the prestigious Man-Booker Prize in 1991 for his novel, The Famished Road. In the past few years, the 56-year-old was invited to speak in Johannesburg at the launch of Africa Month in April 2015, and also gave the 13th Steve Biko Memorial Lecture in Cape Town in 2012. The internationally acclaimed poet and novelist is considered as one of Africa’s leading writers.

As with a traditional review, we could tell you about the usual elements of the book – the plot, the characters, the style, the tone – but as with all great pieces of art, giving you all these details would miss the point.

We hardly ever go to great novels for their plots anyway – we go there to be transformed. So, here, we will only touch on these surface trifles briefly, and we’ll focus instead on delving deeper into the heart and soul of the novel.

The Age of Magic

The novel follows a team of documentary film-makers on a journey from Paris. They are on a journey to Arcadia, discovering and filming what people’s inner ideas about their own personal Arcadia may be.

The blurb at the back of the book says about the novel’s characters that: “One by one, they will be disturbed, enlightened, and transformed, each in a different way”. That is the crux of what the novel is “about” on the surface.

Summing up the work, the Daily Mail called the novel: “Part narrative, part philosophy, part allegory… not just a story, but a series of intriguing revelations”.

A series of intriguing revelations. Yes. We like that very much. But is it entertaining as well? Yes, we think it is, although not in a Dan Brown or John Grisham kind of way. Perhaps in a Haruki Murakami or Gabriel Garcia Marquez kind of way.

With his latest work, he has proven again why he is so acclaimed in the literary world. The Age of Magic is a piece of art that breaks all the conventions of what a novel should be today, and it does so in all the right ways.

However, as with any piece of art, for all its innovation and enchantments, it is not for everyone. The book received polarising reviews upon its release. Our response: Aren’t all progressive pieces of art polarising?

We think that The Age of Magic is a refreshing, audacious, daring, and innovative 21st Century piece of art. And perhaps it is one that is quite ahead of its time, and therefore, its true worth will only be valued in the coming decades when we reflect back on which novels were the giants of our centuries literary efforts.

Perhaps the fate and legacy of this novel will be as Mr. Okri himself says in the first sentence of the first chapter in the book: “Some things only become clear much later”.

Do you know of any other innovative 21st Century novels? Let us know below in the comments section.

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