Book Review: Oroonoko

“A man of wit could not be a knave or villain…”

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I’m getting a little fatigued with reading classics. I mean, it’s nice to feel like your learning and all but sometimes it’s nice to just kick back with some Dan Brown…

Oroonoko is the latest in a string of books that I would never choose to read but have to read anyway. Published in 1688, Aphra Behn’s story is considered one of the first British novels. Oroonoko is an African prince who falls hard for Imoinda, a General’s daughter. That’s where things get a little weird. The king, Oroonoko’s grandfather, becomes jealous of the happy couple so insists on bringing Imoinda into his harem. Bit of a dick move. This leads to all sorts of slavery related hi jinks and tribulations.

It almost goes without saying that judged by today’s standards, Oronooko is hopelessly imperialist and sometimes racist, and while it is ridiculous to judge a 300 year old novel for this, it can still be pretty distracting. I have been studying this novel as part of a block with Othello and The Duchess of Malfi. All are good on their own merits but they are also unrelentingly violent and grim. I think I need to read some Roald Dahl or something to restore my faith in humanity a little.

I guess the fact that I have been sat staring blankly at the screen for a number of minutes thinking of how I can end this review is an indicator that I didn’t enjoy this book too much. The ending is suitably harrowing and the language is impressive but too often reading a dusty old tome just isn’t much fun.

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