Book: Music for the Off-Key

By Courttia Newland | Mon 25 July 2011

Twelve macabre short stories

Drawing inspiration from everything from traditional horror movies to the contemporary sophistication of Japanese works in this genre, Newland brings together the literary and the popular in a uniquely Black British mix. In an afterword to these stories, Newland writes of his frustration with the narrow limits imposed by mainstream publishing expectations on African British fiction, trapped between the immigrant ‘Windrush’ novel and the Yardie gangster novel with its American borrowings.

Music for the Off-Key by Courttia Newland

It’s difficult knowing where to start when it comes to reviewing Music for the Offkey. In compiling this eclectic selection of tales with a twist, author Courttia Newland has presented us with a literary conundrum. Is it possible to sustain the interest of the reader across the entire duration of a book of short tales once the surprise of a twist is expected?

Well the simple answer to that question if you are as talented as Courttia is a resounding yes.

I loathe the use of the word macabre to describe the tone of the book as the labels eccentric and indeed, offkey fit far better. Yet these descriptions are not enough to express Courttia’s superb delivery in weaving the rich textured worlds that his characters inhabit. His writing effortlessly paints a subtle yet rich backdrop for each of the tales and masterfully like a skilled hand at the craft of love making repeatedly brings the reader to a climax before deftly reengaging in foreplay to setup the next event. Indeed if there is any criticism of this book then it is that the short nature of the exquisite stories often leaves the reader after much anticipatory investment in these macro worlds with the feeling of being denied more.

No topic is off limit, from the journey of a man attracted to young girls, the angst of the healer going through transition to the surreal flight of freedom which extends beyond the realm of metaphors. This book is sexy and scary, repulsive and addictive and yet in creating what should be a collection of disjointed creative expressions of Africentricty, the opposite is true. Author Courttia escapes the narrow political restraints often imposed upon African British writers by (bar one tale named Complexion) weaving identity into the tapestry of the story as opposed to it dominating the chosen colours. It’s like an album where a soul singer is performing to a jazz rhythm played by a hip-hop group with a roots reggae bass guitarist.

If there is one lingering note that resonates throughout Music for the Offkey then it’s the effortless and casually almost fun manner in which the abnormal is made to feels so, well normal.

It’s a great inverted chord, leaving the reader hankering for a follow up album.


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Courttia Newland

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