Alain Mabanckou: Memoirs of a Porcupine (Memoires de porc-épic, 2008)
Under a tree in the Congo sits the world's oldest porcupine. He's spent far longer than any porcupine should live as the evil double - alter ego, if you will, dark passenger if you're a Dexter fan - to an alleged serial killer. (Every person has an animal double that brings them luck; some have doubles that bring evil instead... well, you gotta blame something.) Now the man he's been doing the dirty work for is dead, and the ancient porcupine is finally free to go out and live his own life. Anytime now he'll stand up. He just needs to tell his story first.
Discussing African literature often becomes frustrating, as well it should when you're trying to summarize everything written between Casablanca and Cape Town. Sure enough, one Swedish critic dismissed Memoirs of a Porcupine as being a good novel, sure, but just not... a proper African novel. As Binyavanga Wainaina points out in "How to write about Africa", it's important for proper African writers to hit all the right clichés so you confirm the picture foreign readers have of Africa.
What this needs, obviously, is a satirist. A while back I read Mabanckou's African Psycho and liked it but it didn't feel complete. Here (and presumably in the previous novel Broken Glass, which has been widely praised) he's come into his own. With his storytelling porcupine (note the pun in the French title) he's got a perfect outsider perspective that lets him poke vicious fun at both European and African views of themselves and each other. Clichés are piled on top of each other and knocked down one by one, a crossfire of confused white sociologists and African witchdoctors, christianity and islam and local beliefs, western and African myths and stories that crash into each other while the narrator snorts derision and sighs over how these two-legged fools keep rejecting one to cling to the other.
He's just a porcupine, he insists, he can't understand humans. And yet, damnit, he can't help it - serving an evil man (who's a carpenter, make of that what you will) a killer (maybe) of dozens, scores, hundreds, he can't help but to start look at them for what they are underneath all their bluster...so as not to complicate things and confuse you I can tell you that novels are books that humans write when they want to say things that aren't true, they claim it all comes out of their imagination
Fables are supposed to have a clear moral, says the cliché prevalent in European literature since Aesop. Memoirs of a Porcupine, told in the first person by a dying animal (man is the only animal who knows he's mortal, remember?) pisses on all traditions, and so he leaves it up to you to make your own. Once you stop laughing.