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Reading the Ceiling by Dayo Forster

Reading the Ceiling (2007)

by Dayo Forster

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Set in Gambia, this novel traces a young woman's choices through three alternative lives. The author catches the tone and attitudes of Ayodele as a teenager and then young and middle aged woman well. All of our choices determine both create and limit the subsequent paths of our lives. Forster explores this idea with rich characters and vivid writing. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
"I can choose to be the hunter or the lion. What will my story be?", 7 Feb. 2016

This review is from: Reading the Ceiling (Paperback)
As the novel opens on narrator Ayodele's 18th birthday, I thought this was going to be a YA tale. Discos, the opposite sex and deciding on a future occupy the young people:
"We knot ourselves into a drift of conversations, starting and ebbing. University crops up again. And what we intend to do with our lives. We talk about the moon, about whether mermaids will come this far up the river, about crocodiles and oysters."
Ayodele is planning to take a lover and is preparing a short-list of likely candidates....

The fascinating structure of this work is that Forster gives us THREE stories of how Ayodele's life turns out, long-term, depending on the choices she makes; the men, the career options, religion, motherhood... And of course, much of life is down to fate and extraneous events.
As the stories move on to Ayodele's middle age, I found this quite a moving and thought-provoking novel.

An easy-read but enjoyable and worthwhile. ( )
1 vote starbox | Feb 8, 2016 |
It's the morning of Ayodele's 18th birthday. She has decided that today, she will have sex for the first time. But she hasn't quite decided who with. She lies on her bed, thinking about the options, and before we know it, we are into the story of the first possibility, and at the start of three versions of how her life turns out.

I was really impressed by this book until the end of the first section. It's very well-written, and I enjoyed the story (in this version, Ayodele leaves Gambia and studies in London, before eventually returning home). But as I read the other two stories, I started to have doubts, despite the good writing. Arguably, in the first story, Ayodele lets decisions be made for her, in the second she actively chooses, and in the third she deliberately makes what she knows to be a bad choice. However, the developments in her life are barely related to that one particular choice on her birthday, and her personality doesn't seem to develop differently either - which makes the framing device a bit pointless.

Indeed, there's one big difference which affects the course of her life which would have been decided before that birthday (she's informed of it in a letter which she receives the day after), which really isn't playing by the rules!

I'll keep an eye out for what else Forster writes, as this has potential, but I wouldn't actively recommend it to others. ( )
  wandering_star | Jun 19, 2011 |
"Once you make some choices, they stick - you can't shake them off. They cling and shape you."

This is the story of Ayodele told three ways. She is a young woman in Gambia, determined to lose her virginity on her 18th birthday. And she does, but her decisions about with whom she'll sleep have consequences beyond that single night. Not explicitly - she doesn't reflect upon and rue the event as extraordinary in any of the three stories - but in smaller ways of indicating and shaping her character and approach to interpersonal relationships afterwards.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot to this book beyond the framing device. Ayodele wades through the subsequent events that make up her life, but both she and her settings were difficult to feel engaged in. At some points, I felt like the decisions she made as to whom to sleep with were the most defining decisions we saw that made up her character, because for so much of the plot, she just lets life happen to her. So it was an interesting set-up that unfortunately didn't follow through with any great narrative point. ( )
  the_awesome_opossum | Apr 12, 2011 |
Opening Sentence: "...Getting dressed was always the hardest part of the afternoon..."

This is the debut novel of Dayo Forster, an African writer who was born and lived The Gambia, but now lives in Kenya. The plot revolves around Adodele, a Gambian girl on the cusp of womanhood. I picked READING THE CEILING as my family lived in that country for a few years back in the late 70’s.

The opening sentence didn’t really grab me, but a paragraph later the author mentions the harmattan blowing off the Sahara – and it evoked many memories. The harmattan is a dry, dusty trade wind that starts to blow around November. It is a time of sand storms – but is also a dry heat, so brings relief from the high humidity.

The book opens with Adodele lying in bed on the day of her 18th birthday. She is planning on losing her virginity that night to get it over and done with before she flies off to university. A list of possible partners is presented to the reader, along with the pros and cons, of who she could "do the deed’ with.

What the book does next is very unusual, and a very good idea - Dayo Forster presents us with three alternative versions of how Adodele’s life might turn out depending on who she slept with that fateful night. Each of the three life journeys, from teenage to middle age, are very different, yet there is a linked similarity in the background stories of her friends and family in each version of Adodele’s life.

The story demonstrates how decisions made in immaturity can have far reaching consequences throughout life. Yes no-one has foresight so we just have to make do with how life turns out. Adodele has the additional problem of struggling to fit a modern way of living into traditional culture – balancing the best of both worlds into her life.

For anyone who has lived in West Africa - and especially The Gambia – this book will bring back memories of food, clothes and smells. She uses local vocabulary, but it is easy to work out what the meaning is from the context. The words she used definately evoked a sense of place for me. ( )
1 vote sally906 | Mar 30, 2009 |
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For my family - my excuse for those weekends in Watamu
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In the slit between my bedroom curtains, I see a long triangle of sky more grey than blue.
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Ayodele's life will tread a different path depending on a decision she makes on her eighteenth birthday, on the cusp of womanhood, but how will she choose?

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