I'm not funny and I don't find too many things funny. So when I got an advance copy of O, Africa! and read the praises of other authors, I was hesitant to go further. “Hilarious,” declares Gary Shteyngart. “A wise, irresistible comedy,” says Mary-Beth Hughes. “One of the funniest . . . books I've read,” echoes Paul La Farge. Even before I started reading, I knew that the little bit of humor I possessed wouldn't find the humor in this story. And what's funny is, that this was true, but I still loved the novel.
Truthfully, I didn't get what was so funny about O, Africa! There were a few lines and witticisms that I found slightly humorous, but overall this novel didn't seem intended to be funny. Maybe I'm not supposed to say this, because clearly the publisher is targeting a different audience, but I thought the book was rather tragic and moving. It's more of a love story about the movie industry, a heartbreaking journey of self-discovery, than the slapstick comedy some readers may anticipate.
Andrew Lewis Conn shows great skill in this novel. The characters were fabulous and well-drawn. They're not necessarily likable, and some of their actions may lead more conscientious readers to toss the book into the trash, but they propel the story nicely. The story itself builds wonderful momentum and is paced perfectly until the final chapters—I found the end a bit rushed, but that is a common problem in novels, especially when the reader is engaged in the story and doesn't want it to end. There's also this whole pot-smoking, thugs-doing-an-impromptu-musical scene I didn't quite get, but it's a brief moment and my “not getting it” probably has more to do with my aforementioned lack of humor than with the writer's lack of discernment.
I won't be surprised to find O, Africa! on some of the best-of lists of 2014. It is intelligent, moving, and original. Some might say it's funny, and I won't argue with them, but for those like myself, it's much more than “a funny book.”