After the Costa shortlists were announced I was lucky enough to be emailed by some of the publishers who wondered if I would like to read some of the novels on the lists. As I mentioned a while back it was the debut novels that intrigued me. One of them was ‘Coconut Unlimited’ by Nikesh Shukla which I had heard mentioned in the broadsheets and had intrigued me from its synopsis partly because it was a coming of age story, which is something I am trying to get my small bias around, and also because it was a comic novel by all accounts.
‘Coconut Unlimited’ does seem like it could be very much on the authors, Nikesh Shulka’s, youth. It’s a tale of Amit from his childhood growing up in Harrow in North West London in the mid 1990’s. Born left handed his Indian family are rather concerned for him due to its religious connotations and so he is sent to a very white and rather middle/upper class private school where the teachers are known to make racist comments and expect no comeback. With his friends Anand and Nishant they create a rap band based on their passion for hip-hop (such as the Wu Tang Clan, Skee-Lo, Nas etc – which really took me back – who in honesty some of them have never heard of and in fact some of them make up hip-hop acts they have heard of to try and sound street) called ‘Coconut Unlimited’ as his sister says ‘because you are brown on the outside and white on the inside’.
The story then follows the bands highs and the lows both as they try and get noticed, get street (with some very funny consequences) and also whilst they deal with the perils of growing up and becoming men and belonging. It is much more than just a coming of age story, with humour Shukla deals with the issues of race and class as they were, and in some cases still are, just a decade ago. It is very funny, occasionally in a slightly bittersweet way, and if you didn’t or don’t love hip hop there is much to entertain you whilst enlightening you and certainly making you laugh and remembering your awkward teenage years.
Nikesh Shukla has a great voice, and in writing through the eyes of Amit he never makes the reader feel patronised, it’s all very authentic. In fact I would say that he deals with these three young men with a kind of tenderness which adds that extra something to the novel as a whole. His prose is fluid and energetic which may have something to do with the fact Shukla is a performance poet. It’s a very promising debut from a novelist I think we will be seeing much more from in the future. 7.5/10
Has anyone else given ‘Coconut Limited’ a whirl? If you have been umming and ahhing about it, possibly as from the blurb it sounds slightly niche as was my slight concern, then give it a whirl. I’m glad the Costa Book Awards shortlist brought this novel to my attention, and then to my door, now which one of the shortlisted titles should I try next?
This book was kindly sent to me by the publishers.