At first, Teju Cole’s Open City comes across like a modern, urban rewrite of Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker, as the protagonist Julius, a Nigerian doctor, wanders the streets of Manhattan and records his various musings on politics, art and history.
But gradually, as we learn more of Julius’s dealings with his patients, we begin to see that he is something of a poseur, and Cole’s book, an exercise in unreliable narration.
We are encouraged to notice the cracks in Julius’s cultivated image, the little self-justifications and moments of intellectual pretentiousness that act as a barrier between himself and others. It all adds up to a work of great originality, sophistication and – a precious rarity in first novels these days – brevity. Cole brings similar qualities to his Twitter page, “Small Fates”, where he publishes exquisite flash fiction about life in Lagos.