Book Review: Love in Colour
Ellie Wilson writes about Bolu Babalola's 'Love in Colour', a book which inspires 'pure joy'. It focuses on mythological tales with female protagonists and reminds us of our shared love and humanity.
Image description: I painted it in lockdown when I was feeling inspired by the women in my life. It is currently being sold on Instagram as prints on @rachelastridart to raise money for Scottish Women’s Aid, and as postcards by @uoefemsoc as part of their beauty reconstructed fundraising campaign. As women stand together side by side in the illustration, Love in Colour places the distinct experiences of women of different backgrounds in the spotlight, celebrating female independence, love in all forms and human connections.
Bolu Babalola’s Love in Colour anthology is pure joy. The female protagonists in each short story bring light to mythical tales inspired by global cultural tradition, pulled from their original contexts but remaining tethered at the heart.
From Lagos to London, from a dystopian metropolis to the Maloti Valley, Babalola weaves each culture into the soul of the stories she tells. What makes the anthology so special, however, are Babalola’s retellings, where women stand boldly at the centre of the tales. This offers new colour to stories which have previously been filled with misogyny and limited by archaic, patriarchal narratives. Instead, the women in Love in Colour illuminate the worlds crafted for them, their experiences, and their love.
From Siya, the archer, fighting over ancestral territory for her people; to Zhinu the rising popstar finding her voice; to Naleli, the schoolgirl navigating body image and bullies, each character is uniquely crafted to exhibit not just varied personalities and experiences, but diverse cultures and landscapes too, from the mystical to the ordinary. Through each of these narratives, despite the inherent external differences, the common thread of love binds each character across their journeys. This shows love in a variety of forms, colours and emotions while also exploring its universality.
Through this, Love in Colour does not shy away from rom-com tropes or romanticism. The novel relishes in the formats of classic romance narratives. The familiarity of these commonly explored ideas is used to great effect, luring the reader in with meet-cutes involving coffee spillages, and romances forbidden by high school social hierarchy. Yet, the supposed safety of expectation in these narrative arcs is undercut by Babalola in favour of new takes and embellishments which serve the women in each story. Within this, the opportunity to delve deeper into the root of romantic tropes heightens these experiences and what they mean for connection.
The women in this anthology truly shine, at the centre of their tale, firmly in the spotlight. The short story format certainly does not hinder the reader’s ability to connect with and immediately understand each protagonist; a true testament to the vibrancy of spirit which permeates Babalola’s exploration of the characters. This is achieved through the display of strength and weakness in the women who front each narrative, which enables the text to feel not just modern, but familiar. The bravery of Babalola’s female characters is not hindered by their softness, insecurity or uncertainty and certainly not by their propensity for love; strength is found in moments of doubt and fear, as weaknesses are nurtured into strengths. In ‘Zhinu’, we see a young woman silenced by an overbearing mother, who eventually finds not just her voice, but a fresh sense of autonomy from her romance with Niulang. Their partnership is not just about romance, as Zhinu is aided in her personal growth and independence; a theme in many of the retellings. In ‘Siya’, we meet a woman fighting for the freedom of her tribe who defies expectation and exists outside of conformity, but who, with the help of her lover Maadi, discovers it is okay to need saving too sometimes. These stories are based on Chinese and Ancient Soninke legends respectively, binding history and cultural meaning to create a new force altogether.
In addition to the traditional tales and legends, Babalola includes three original short stories in the anthology: ‘Tiara’, ‘Orin’, and ‘Alagomeji’. They each remain indulgent in the magic of myth while also providing a new dynamic to a collection steeped in historical connotations.
It is interesting to see how romance unfolds concerning female independence; the spirit of romance enriches the lives of the women, while not compromising their growth. Far removed from classic tropes of a damsel in distress, the sheer confidence, vivacity and sharpness of tongue which defines the women in Love in Colour is refreshing for the soul. Yet, the wonder associated with stories from ancient mythology is not lost, even when set within office blocks or the smoking area of a Brixton bar. The stakes are still high, the worlds are still artfully constructed, and love remains at the core.
During a time when many of us are separated from loved ones, Love in Colour feels restorative, it feels hopeful. It is a reminder that despite our cultures, our differences, the physical distance between us, we are all connected by our humanity and our love.
This piece was edited by Kirsten Provan (sourced) and Tamara El-Halawani, students at the University of Edinburgh.