There are many intriguing elements to Okechukwu Nzelu’s second novel. Here Again Now is a story of love and maleness that almost pits those words – love, maleness – as contradictions. Is there any framework in which to express love, as a male, towards other males? Can one be created? To use the book’s recurring question, is there only “distance and sex”?
The book gives an interesting take on these questions through the story of three men and their complicated relationship. Achike is an actor whose career is “taking off at speed”. Ekene, his lifelong “friend” (or maybe more than friend), and his troubled father, Chibuike, are “sponging” off him, living in his London flat. All are of Nigerian heritage, a fact that shapes the way they move through the world. Through this dynamic we delve into themes of family, fatherhood, homosexuality, repression, vulnerability and more.
Nzelu is an insightful writer whose prose is deep and philosophical. As Achike struggles with his career, he thinks “I know how lucky I am. But I don’t want to be lucky. I want to be happy.” When Chibuike discovers his son is gay, he thinks, disdainfully: “Gay, yes. But also irrepressible, and this was more dangerous by far.” When Ekene considers Achike, he wonders “what it would be, never to be Achike’s audience, but to be allowed merely to see him.”
At times, though, Nzelu has a tendency to overexplain, meaning moments of true insight get lost in the fug. This overzealousness also bleeds into the narrative, which builds like a brilliant character-driven social study before it quickly turns into melodrama.
About a third of the way through, Nzelu commits the cardinal sin of killing off his main character. This would be fine (we all love a cardinal sin every now and again) if it weren’t for further elements of childhood trauma, grief and betrayal all vying for attention alongside it.
Still, though not all of it comes off, there is something interesting going on. An alternate narrative moves quietly in the background: the storyline of a movie in which Achike has been cast. In it, a woman is murdered by police in New York City and reincarnates in Nigeria multiple times. The book plays on this theme of reincarnation, with the death as a central fulcrum, and the remaining characters finding ways to be reborn in the wake of it.
Overall, there is plenty to admire and analyse, but too much at once will leave readers overwhelmed.