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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Oil on Water

Helon Habila

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | links | about the author

To purchase Oil on Water

Title: Oil on Water
Author: Helon Habila
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010
Length: 239 pages
Availability: Oil on Water - US
Oil on Water - UK
Oil on Water - Canada
Oil on Water - India

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Haven't gotten around to writing it up yet

Chances that we will review it:


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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 6/9/2010 Adrian Turpin
The Guardian . 25/9/2010 Bernardine Evaristo
The Independent A+ 13/8/2010 Margaret Busby
Independent on Sunday . 8/8/2010 James Urquhart
The NY Times Book Rev. . 3/7/2011 Hirsh Sawhney
Next C- 23/10/2010 Ikhide R. Ikheloa
The Observer . 29/8/2010 Rachel Aspden
The Telegraph A 31/10/2010 Aminatta Forna
TLS . 6/8/2010 Akin Ajayi

  Review Consensus:

  Not entirely a consensus, but most find it well done, and an important subject

  From the Reviews:
  • "The chopped-up time-scheme gives the story the air of a feverish dream, as does the way Habila subtly creates doubles for many of the characters. But most unsettling is the ending. A cause for optimism or a cry of despair ? It repays close re-reading." - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "The narrative oscillates between past and present, tracking the two journalists' assignment in the delta as well as digressing into their respective pasts, but the most powerful and interesting character in the story proves to be the fetid, viscous, menacing landscape. Habila's prose perfectly evokes the devastation of the oil-polluted wetlands. (...) Oil on Water brings to light this overlooked story of environmental and human rights abuses." - Bernardine Evaristo, The Guardian

  • "This masterly third novel by Helon Habila, a former winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing and of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book from the Africa Region, draws on the tradition of the classic detective novel but also operates on a deeper, metaphorical and philosophical level. (...) Unlike some of his characters, Habila never puts a foot wrong, and his use of the journalist as detective is assured and effective (.....) Habila has a filmic ability to etch scenes on the imagination." - Margaret Busby, The Independent

  • "The prescient quality of his writing is rooted in this sense that his narrator-journalists bear witness to events of international significance, in which the skirmish of Floode's ordeal is a grubby sideshow compared with the wholesale usurping and comprehensive destruction of large tracts of tribal land, heritage and livelihoods." - James Urquhart, Independent on Sunday

  • "Despite its neat and tidy ending, this novel, Habila’s third, reminds us how a mixture of poverty, frustration and greed can engender militancy, and illuminates the cruel, overlooked effects of globalization on the developing world." - Hirsh Sawhney, The New York Times Book Review

  • "There is enough detail to provide memorable scenes. His greatest strength is deployed to descriptions of the apocalypse that is the Niger Delta. (...) Oil on Water is a gentle disaster of a story lolling about wishing it was a very short story. (...) The drama and dialogue are forced, and insincere. The book features editorial issues, jerky disjointed dialogue, awkward attempts at humour and improbable twists and turns lifted right out of a third-rate MFA curriculum." - Ikhide R. Ikheloa, Next

  • "Habila's powerful, accomplished third novel displays a growing pessimism about journalism's capacity to effect change – as well as providing a nicely cynical dissection of the media's relentless appetite for sensation." - Rachel Aspden, The Observer

  • "Habila is a skilful narrator and a master of structure. (...) What Habila has delivered in Oil on Water is at once a thrilling, fast paced read and also an elegiac meditation on the destructive force of greed and the fragility of hope." - Aminatta Forna, The Telegraph

  • "Oil on Water's strongest point is the patience with which Habila gathers together the details from which Rufus gradually grasps the "meaning" of his story (.....) For all its strength, Oil on Water suffers from a surprising diffidence. In a fiction that is a personal journey of discovery as well as a social documentary, Habila's characterizations are curiously bloodless and passive." - Akin Ajayi, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Oil on Water: Reviews: Helon Habila: Other books by Helon Habila under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       Nigerian author Helon Habila was born in 1967.

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© 2011 the complete review

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