Wahala by Nikki May

Wahala is a tense and biting novel about what happens to three friends when a glamorous newcomer joins their group. Ronke, Simi, and Boo have been friends since university, three mixed race women now in their thirties and dealing with life and love. When Simi’s childhood friend Isobel appears, at first the others are unsure, but soon it seems like her whirlwind of money and style might improve all their lives. However, cracks start appearing in their friendships and relationships with their partners, and secrets from the past are coming back.

The book focuses on all three of the protagonists, with each chapter following a different one of them as they are drawn deeper into Isobel’s world. The concept of the outsider who starts tearing apart a friendship group is a classic one, and this is a great example of the trope, with plot points all coming together and the reader knowing early on that Isobel is trouble, but being powerless to do anything but watch it happen. Sometimes stories with that kind of reader powerlessness frustrate me, but this one was carefully done so you trust that the plot is going somewhere.

The main characters are interesting, all at quite different points in their lives and dealing with their different relationships to their British and Nigerian heritage. Ronke was the most suspicious of Isobel, which made her engaging, and her hope throughout the novel was powerful. Boo’s story was frustrating in a cleverly written way, as a part-time stay-at-home mum deals with having someone encourage her to spice up her life, but this makes her feelings of resentment for her husband and child harder to deal with. Simi’s narrative was perhaps less thrilling, but gave a chance for exploration of the conflicts she faced at work and with her family, and also about a woman who does not want to have children.

There’s a lot of issues explored in the novel in different ways, from dark comedy to more serious consideration of race and class (especially in the treatment of Ronke’s boyfriend Kayode), and the book cleverly combines the plot with these elements. Wahala is a chance to plunge into the lives of three friends (like Isobel), and root for them to make it through without ruining their lives (unlike Isobel).