The first thing you’ll notice about Olumide Popoola’s first novel, ‘When We Speak of Nothing’, is the voice. I’ve tried and failed to explain it to people who have not read the novel, how it pulls you in and why it resonates, but it’s as hard to grasp as Eṣu, the Yoruba trickster god, whose personality is channeled by the form of narration Olumide has chosen for the book.
“It’s third person narration in the first person voice,” Olumide explains when I ask her about it. The voice is a character in and of itself, drawing you into a conversation of sorts with the familiar cadence and rhythm of the Black British slang that has become the official language of British youth of every hue. It took a long time for Olumide to slip into the skin of this voice. The first chapter alone took twenty drafts, with late night YouTube searches utilised as research. “I don’t want to embarrass myself by saying some of the search terms I put into Google,” Olumide laughs.