Paperbacks: Goodbye Lucille, by Segun Afolabi

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The Independent Culture

In his stylish short-story collection, A Life Elsewhere, Nigerian-born Segun Afolabi wrote memorably about life as a newly-arrived asylum seeker.

In Goodbye Lucille, his debut novel, he returns to questions of identity and ethnicity – this time round viewing the world through the eyes of a navel-gazing expat. Vincent, the novel's narrator, is an overweight black freelance photographer who has recently left Kentish Town for Berlin. It's 1985 and, seduced by the city's nightlife, he fritters away his evenings in the company of misfits and chancers, and his days snacking and avoiding work. Not content with his lot, he craves intimacy but can't summon up the requisite energy to commit either to his Seychelloise girlfriend, Lucille, or the many available women who come across his path.

As the novel expands – and the summer hots up – a series of familial crises provokes Vincent to review his troubled past and early years as an adopted child. He complains of moving from "predicament to predicament", but as he meanders from bed to dance-floor to bar, it's hard not to agree with Lucille that he needs to get a grip. Afolabi's interest in the depressed and delusional should make for grim reading, but his supple prose and plain-speaking characters make this portrait of party-time Berlin an unexpectedly involving read.