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Q&A with Adorah Nworah - House Woman


House Woman

By Leah Golder


We are excited to introduce Adorah Nworah to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release House Woman.


My name is Ikemefuna Nwosu, and I am your wife.


One day in Lagos, young dancer Ikemefuna is put on a plane to Houston to meet her new husband, Nna. Promises are made to her - about her education, about the man she will marry, about her freedom.


None of them are kept.


A few months later, self-professed feminist Nna finds a beautiful woman cooking in his parents' kitchen. They tell him Ikemefuna is his wife, there to give them the grandson they've been waiting for. She appears obedient, malleable.


But she is no ordinary wife.


In the Texas heat, patience runs on short supply and the atmosphere in the house becomes increasingly strained, increasingly violent. Desperation makes people do strange things...


House Woman

I would first like to thank you for speaking with me about your incredible upcoming novel House Woman. It is a brilliant and captivating thriller. How was the process of writing your debut novel? How do you feel about it being so close to being out in the world?


Thanks for having me. I’m glad you enjoyed House Woman! Writing House Woman was a masterclass in time management. My day job as a real estate finance lawyer keeps me busy, so most of House Woman took shape late at night or in the early hours of the morning. Writing on borrowed time introduced a charged energy to the story’s pacing. There was no time to dawdle, so the characters said what they had to say and did what they had to do. House Woman is currently out in the US and I’m loving the feedback from the readers! I’m excited to introduce House Woman to UK readers. I hope they appreciate my penmanship and the novelty of its plot.


Thriller has got to be my favourite genre to read, there is nothing quite like a gritty, page turner to keep a reader’s interest and of course House Woman is no exception to this. Did you always know you would write a thriller? Were there any challenges you faced writing an African story as a thriller?

I didn’t always know I’d write a thriller, but the plot of House Woman lends itself to the genre. With House Woman, I wanted to recreate the feverish thrill I feel when I read my favorite thrillers. But more than that, I wanted to explore the ways women in patriarchal societies navigate, negotiate, and survive marriage and motherhood. Finding the intersection between my goals for the novel and staying in it long enough to draft and revise House Woman wasn’t always easy, but I made it work thanks to the input of my agent and editors.


The way you craft the characters as chaotic and messy is astonishing. House Woman truly explores the lives of relatable and human characters but zooms past the fake smiles and engages with the gritty reality beneath. Was it important for you to craft relatable and human characters?


No and yes. It was important to write human characters, but I didn’t need

them to be relatable because what counts as “relatable” largely depends on one’s sociocultural background and lived experiences. Rather than focus on relatability, I channeled my energy into crafting characters who were shamelessly human––characters with all of their follies on full display.

Is there any one particular character that you found challenging or easy to create? Or any one character you found the most fun to write?

None of the characters were easy creations, but Agbala was by far my favorite character to write. A ruthless older Nigerian woman who painstakingly creates a persona that shields her from patriarchy’s excesses? Love to see it.


I have to say the character of Agbala was my least favourite and yet I was glued to the page by her! The formidable mother-in-law who follows the orders of Ala and yet is focused on making Ikemefuna’s life a misery and willing her eventual demise. How did you craft such a villainous character?


I’m a big Agbala fan. I drew inspiration for the character from Patience Ozokwor, a popular Nigerian actress who plays the role of a domineering mother in-law in old Nollywood movies. As a child, I was repulsed by Ozokwor’s “mother-in-law from hell” bit, but I couldn’t stop watching the movies because I found the role of an unapologetically cantankerous Nigerian woman to be quite liberating. I attempted to channel Ozokwor’s hypnotic appeal into the character of Agbala.


Throughout House Woman, the concept of fertility and desperation for a son is paramount and even garners a mentioning of Atwood’s infamous The Handmaid’s Tale. The reduction of Ikemefuna to her reproductive organs and the fetishization of bearing a son creates a tense and charged read. Did Atwood’s dystopia influence your writing at all? Were there any other novel/writers who inspired your writing?

The Handmaid’s Tale gave me the courage to write a novel that is visceral in its summation of a woman’s life in a patriarchal world. Other novels that paved the way for House Woman include Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood for its depiction of an Igbo woman’s travails as she navigates motherhood, and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister the Serial Killer for its wit, its fast pace, and its slew of unhinged characters.


The role of the Goddess Ala seems to be background throughout the entire novel and the relationship between Agbala and Ala seems tense and almost a fictitious one crafted by Agbala. Was there any way you wish your readers to engage with your portrayal of the Goddess Ala?

In filtering Ala through Agbala’s lenses, I hoped to portray society’s complicated relationship with religion and the middlemen who speak on behalf of our gods. I’d love to see readers question Agbala’s relationship to Ala, and to figure out where Ala’s will ends and Agbala’s private longings begin.


A really interesting dynamic within the text is the relationship between the white and African characters: Mary wanting to make Agbala her “pet” and drown her in Southern hospitality and Nna’s friends dismay at him making “everything about race”. Was it important for you to showcase the dysfunctional relations between people of different races within your novel?

It was important to write from an honest place. I wouldn’t be telling an honest story if I wrote about a Black immigrant family in Texan suburbia or a Black man in one of the least diverse professions in America without alluding to America’s fractured race relations.


The theme of entrapment and solidarity is rife throughout the novel. From Ikemefuna being trapped within a marriage to then being physically trapped in the house and restrained throughout multiple moments of the novel. Is there any underlining message you wished to convey through the physical and violent trappings of Ikemefuna?

I’m glad you picked up on the omnipresence of captivity in the novel. With House Woman, I wanted to zero in on patriarchy’s chokehold on both its victims and perpetuators, and how it limits both sides to roles that minimize the full extents of their humanity.


Finally, where can our lovely readers get their hands on your gripping and chilling thriller House Woman?


House Woman is currently out in the US and will be published in the UK on January 4, 2024. Readers can order a copy via the link in my Twitter and Instagram bios, and from the following sellers.


Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

Waterstones

Bookshop

Barnes and Noble

Roving Heights


House Woman

Adorah is a lawyer and Igbo storyteller from South-Eastern Nigeria. Her stories have been featured in literary magazines like AFREADA and adda. Her short stories, The Bride and Broken English made the shortlist for the 2019 Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize and the longlist for the 2018 Short Story Day Africa Prize respectively. Her debut novel, House Woman, is forthcoming from Unnamed Press (USA) on June 6, 2023 and Borough Press (UK) in January 2024.


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