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Book review: ‘Small Joys’ by Elvin James Mensah

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

What is Read It. Read It!?

Read It. Read It! is an AKADi Magazine segment aimed at book lovers. Our goal is to get you reading more books by Ghanaian authors, poets, illustrators, or books about Ghana.



We want you to share your thoughts on these books and hopefully, instead of us urging you to Read It. You’ll be telling us you’ve Read It!


In this post, we are reviewing ‘Small Joys’ by Elvin James Mensah. Elvin was raised in South East London. He received his Bachelor of Arts in English and Journalism from Bournemouth University, where he began writing his first novel.


What is this book about?

The book tells the story of a bond that blossoms between two unlikely friends: Harles and Muddy.


Harles is a British-Ghanaian man who has a lot on his plate. He’s dropped out of university. He has a fraught relationship with his father and he’s battling depression. The book opens with him attempting to commit suicide.


Muddy is Mancunian and moves into a shared house with his friend Chelsea and Harles – his new housemate. Muddy is easy going, loves indie music and is a keen twitcher (bird watcher).


Although on the surface Harles and Muddy do not appear to have much in common, their friendship grows and by the end of the book, the pair are inseparable.


Elvin’s book made me ponder more on what it means to be a man.

What I liked

I liked the simplicity. The book centres around the lives of Harles, Muddy, and their friends Noria, Chelsea and her boyfriend Finlay.


They live ordinary lives – cooking together, going to the pub, partying and holding down a job. And yet, those regular activities (that we can all relate to) are written in such a way that the drama, and tension that intersperses the ‘every day’, kept me gripped.


I particularly liked how tight the friendships between the flatmates were. They say: ‘you can choose your friends, but not your family’, and the saying rings true in this book.


Harles’ friendship network is enviable. He is doted on by the ladies - Noria and Chelsea. And I loved the way that Muddy and even the annoying Finlay ensure that Harles is protected. The ring of love around him was heart-warming to read.


But Muddy has to be my favourite. He’s truly the friend we all wish we had. The dependable, giving friend that despite being too caring, is not viewed as a doormat.


What I found challenging

Although the book has a gripping opening, it took me a while to connect with the characters. There is a fair bit of dialogue and the various voices and accents coming through were a tad unfamiliar, which took a while to connect with. But once they did, I was able to appreciate the mastery that goes into creating such nuanced characters.


This book made me think

We watch Harles battle with feelings of inadequacy, self-worth and the impact this had on his relationships and mental health. Harles is gay and although he doesn’t seem to struggle with his sexuality in this book, he does struggle with how others – namely his father – see him.


Harles' dad represents that stereotypical reaction to homophobia (and there are a few highlighted in this book). I suspect that his dad has always known Harles was gay but living in denial is far less brutal. Reading those portions of the book were powerful, for me and was the lengths his father goes to 'pray the gay away'.


The book explores and reflects that struggle many parents experience trying to reconcile their personal hopes and dreams for their children with who their children really are.


Elvin’s book made me ponder more on what it means to be a man.

© Elvin James Mensah

Muddy and Finlay are, on the surface, stereotypical blokes. They don’t mind getting grimy and sweaty playing rugby, and are willing to fight physically to defend a friend. But they also challenge those stereotypes and throughout the book, Elvin explores themes of masculinity and how we judge others based on how closely they align to these standards.


What question would you like to ask the author

Nineties and noughties music punctuate the storyline in ‘Small Joys’ and appears to be a huge unifier between characters in the book. I am interested to know how and why Elvin choose the tracks he did.


Muddy's grandma (one of the later characters in the book) was a hilarious character. I would love to know how Elvin managed to channel not only the northern accent so adeptly, but also deliver such humour in so few sentences.


What's next?

If you’ve read this book, tell us what you thought in the comments or at akadimagazine@gmail.com


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