Only This Once Are You Immaculate by Blessing Musariri
The intricately constructed world in Blessing Musariri’s latest novel is unfortunately weighed down by emphasis and explanation
Nowhere in the whole of literature is the old writing adage 'show, don’t tell' easier to break than in the fantasy genre. With whole worlds to be built and entire systems of culture, knowledge, and mythology to be crafted, the genre’s limitless expanse offers very few boundaries against which writers can constrain a temptation for exposition. And so it is with Blessing Musariri’s latest novel Only This Once Are You Immaculate, a magical realist dystopia whose intricately constructed world is so weighed down in explanation and emphasis that it never quite lifts off the page.
Musariri’s multi-voice narrative follows twins Afya and Aftab, along with their adopted brother Khaled and uncle Azad, as they leave the protected shelter of their home for the first time ever for the world beyond. Musariri deftly interweaves the contemporary technological and political realities of our world with a varied imagination drawing on African landscapes and diverse mythologies, including as far afield as Zoroastrianism.
Yet for all its evocative detail Only This Once Are You Immaculate feels curiously inert: narrative voices sound identical, action arrives with a whimper, and the emotional stakes, such as they are, are oddly restrained. Throughout the novel, there is a constant sense of trust withheld; undeniably it is a beautiful world through which to be so firmly steered, but how much better would it have been to explore it freely.