I can be bit of a Fan Girl.
If I like an actor, I will watch whatever TV, theatre or big screen production they are in. Period. Yes, I liked Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis, 1991), and I’ve seen it more than once. Yeah, I said it!
Dilemma sets in when an actor I like writes.
A talent for literary expression does not necessarily translate from a talent for the physical expression of emotional or comedic drama. So when I discovered one of our very own young, talented black British actors, with proven chops in both drama and comedy, tweeting about his second novel, I was intrigued!
I have been a Michael Obiora fan since his perfectly-groomed camp, sarcastic Ben Trueman in Hotel Babylon (2006-09), holding his own amidst an iconic cast of some of the best British acting talent of the time – the ever-excellent Dexter Fletcher and Omar’s versatile homie Max Beesley amongst others. He also subsequently played urban cool as a detective in Doctor Who (2007) and Misfits (2009). But he has graced the sets of EastEnders, Casualty, The Bill and all of the other UK TV standards – all from his start on Grange Hill (1998-2002). In 2008-09, he turned his hand to creative writing and produced the incredibly well-received Black Shoes (2009).
Vivian’s Couch is Obiora’s second novel, and it is very, very good. Set in the world of psychological counselling, Obiora manages, in just 200 pages, to take you into the troubled lives of Kieran Ledley (the world’s most expensive football player); Freddie Abani (an MP); Rupal Advani (an ex- policewoman); Gemma and Pete Newman (trying to save their marriage) and, perhaps most intriguingly, Vivian Moses, their therapist. He attains a dramatic momentum early on in the novel and maintains it all the way to the end.
Not only is this an ensemble piece, but the story unfolds with scenes from these lives at historically different stages, without confusing or losing the reader along the way. You come to care about the flawed personalities and you become at once disgusted and reassured by the displays of familiar, if damaged, human behaviour. Later, you are genuinely shocked as Obiora makes some brave consequential choices for some of them.
The subtext deals with the stresses of big city ethnicity, mixed race marriages, celebrity couples, spousal power imbalance, adoption, mixed race adoption, loss and grief, sibling love, stepping outside of cultural norms, addiction and abuse. However, at no point do you feel issues to be shoe-horned in or superficially brushed upon or toyed with. Diversity, whilst at the very heart of the narrative, is so subtly drawn out that it feels authentically London! Even for a second novel, Vivian’s Couch is quite an achievement and with no medical training, it shows the author to have a remarkable empathy with the complex workings of the human psyche.
I really enjoyed Vivian’s Couch, which was released on December 10th 2013. It is actually the e-prequel to Obiora’s Black Shoes. It has the truly intriguing closing premise of the entry of a prominent character from Black Shoes. So, now I need to read Black Shoes!