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“The Age Of Magic”: a review of Ben Okri’s magic realist novel

Book cover of Ben Okri’s The Age of Magic. Book cover has a rainbow coloured bird on a dark blue background.

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There are two reasons why I bought this book: I had a gift voucher and the setting of the book was Switzerland (the country I call home). I wasn’t sure what to expect because I had not read anything by Ben Okri before and I must admit that I felt a bit apprehensive about magic realism.

The book is a perfect book for holidays, when you have enough time to read slowly and take in the words. It is half philosophical meditation half magical travel adventure. By the end of the novel, I felt that I was left with more questions than answers, which was both thought provoking and frustrating. The plot goes everywhere and nowhere, I suppose that is the point but I also felt like the narrative could have been hashed out more.

“The Age Of Magic”follows eight film makers on the quest to/for Arcadia. It is both a physical space (a place in Greece) and also a quest for inner truth (a kind of Utopia). The most appealing quality of the narrative, for me, was the sense of home in placelessness. Being in between, neither here nor there is the whole point. Each character struggles to find peace, truth, purpose, understanding… Lao, the main protagonist, is both annoying and intriguing. There is a scene between Lao and his partner Mistletoe where Lao becomes a full-on patriarchal jerk: a man seems interested in Mistletoe and all Lao can ask is what she did to provoke such a response from the man (rape culture much??)

On a complete side note, the novel was voted for worst sex scene in 2014 and I was expecting a doozy. Although, considering that the sex scene is one page long and involves some phallic rocket metaphors it actually wasn’t too bad. Maybe I’ve just read worse and have become desensitised to such things?

I am curious to read more of Okri’s works, but I am giving myself time in between because I feel that while magic realism is an interesting and through provoking genre, it is something that should be consumed in small doses, lest it become overdone and cliche.

What are your thoughts on Magic Realism? Is it a genre that you enjoy sparingly? Have you read any of Okri’s previous novels? Remember as always, to share the reading love.

If you loved my review of Ben Okri’s The Age of Magic, you can get your own copy from Booktopia here!

Buy a copy from Book Depository here.