Out of Africa: a cry of anger and joy from heart-maker Okri

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 May, 1993, 12:00am

SONGS OF ENCHANTMENT, by Ben Okri (Jonathan Cape, $255).

BOREDOM: the curse of all curses. To crack boredom is to crack life. Repetition: breeder of tedium. Done that. Read that. Now give me something different. Something to hold my wandering attention. To excite. And do it quickly or I will be gone, in search of new brightnesses and flickering images. If such is the case, best to avoid Ben.

If your fancy is for plot, and characters, and narrative development, and change of pace, best to avoid Ben.

If you never did like The Beatles' artistic experimentation with tunes longer than three minutes, then, yes, best to give Ben a miss this time, and last time too for that matter, although the Booker Prize jury of 1991, to their credit, thought otherwise.

And if you try to steer clear of books that rely on allusion and allegory - to avoid the confusion this can cause - best steer clear of Ben Okri, for confusion is his middle name.

Well, that rules out almost everyone, except the Booker jury - and a few souls who enjoy reading for reading's sake.

Songs of Enchantment follows the astonishing, award-winning The Famished Road. Both concern a spirit-child called Azaro, an ''unwilling adventurer into the dreams of the living and the dead''.

So, we have the living, and the dead, and dreams. Add an imagination on the scale of Okri's and the only question left is when to stop hitting the keys.

Either The Famished Road or Songs of Enchantment can be read first - it does not matter. If Okri is not for you, you will know by page four or five.

But if Okri is for you . . . well, take your time. He is not going anywhere in a hurry. And do not worry if you miss the gist. He will repeat it. Each time as extravagantly, as grandiloquently, as fevently as before.

And if you do not have any new experiences to move on to, or any strong urge to unravel mysteries or foolishly kill time, Okri will probably creep all over you, slipping through your pores, dribbling milk and honey into your veins.

There may also be flashes of light, as your brain goes ow, oooh, eeee, or even aeiyaa. But there will also be tearings of the flesh to provide ''the limbs, intestines, eyeballs and pulped torsos growing from the earth''.

Okri's books sound a cry - a long, long cry of anger and joy. Anger at Africa's cultural defoliation and the chaos and pain that flows still from the ensuing struggles for power. Joy at the limitless goodness of innocence.

As one character puts it in Songs of Enchantment : ''If you look too deeply everything breaks your heart.'' But Okri is no heart-breaker. He's a heart-maker.