Read: February 2017
UK Release: 2nd March 2017
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.
Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak. Goodreads.
I was provided with a copy of this book by Canongate via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Stay With Me tells the story of Yejide and Akin’s marriage, and its eventual disintegration. The novel is told from both their perspectives, beginning in 2008, at the funeral of Akin’s father, where it is revealed that Yejide and Akin have not seen each other in 14 years. The bulk of the novel, however, takes place in Nigeria in the 1980’s, following Yejide and Akin’s struggles to have a child. This novel is absolutely heartbreaking, and throughout, it feels heavy with grief.
Yejide and Akin are under great pressure to conceive, and much of this burden falls on Yejide herself, as it is perceived to be some kind of ‘failure’ on her part. Yejide longs for motherhood, and it’s gut-wrenching what she goes through in order to become a mother. However, Akin, as a firstborn son, faces a pressure of a different kind. At the start of the novel, Akin’s mother introduces Yejide to the second wife she has arranged for him. Akin’s mother believes that Yejide is unable to have children, and that this is the only solution to their perceived problem. It is clear, in their reflections of the past, that Yejide and Akin loved each other deeply, and these outside influences who claim to ‘help’ their marriage, ultimately poison it.
One of the things I liked the most about this novel was Ayobami Adebayo’s characters. She manages to create realistically flawed, sometimes unlikeable characters, that I nonetheless felt so much sympathy for. Yejide, in particular, I found it impossible not to like. I’d expected to prefer Yejide’s narration over Akin’s, but this was not the case. I really liked the dual perspective, and felt that it really contributed to the narrative as a whole. As you might expect, Yejide and Akin keep plenty of secrets from each other, and many of these are revealed to the reader before the other party ever hears of them, meaning that while their chapters were often discussing the same period of time, you’re always getting new information. I also found that Yejide and Akin’s narrative voices were incredibly distinct; it was always clear whose chapter I was reading. This allowed for an intimate portrayal of both their characters and their relationship, and even when I didn’t agree with their actions, I could always understand why they were making the decisions they did.
Another aspect of the book that I liked was how the political situation in Nigeria was woven through it. It was something that I didn’t know too much about, but this didn’t hinder my reading in any way. I felt that this was as its most effective toward the end of the novel, as the political unrest and the catastrophe that Yejide and Akin’s relationship has become, come to a head at the exact same time.
Given that this book deals with societal expectations surrounding the family, it naturally discusses the impact this has on women. Some points in Yejide’s narration felt claustrophobic due to the intense pressure she was feeling, most particularly when she is forced to accept the presence of Akin’s second wife. As the novel progresses, Yejide’s situation only gets worse, and I found myself marvelling that she was able to get through it. Her grief in this book is almost palpable, and I honestly felt like I spent most of this book on the verge of tears. Akin, by contrast, feels distant, and it isn’t until later in the novel that its revealed how he struggles to cope with the expectations in terms of his masculinity. Akin hides plenty from Yejide, but he also hides things from the reader, and I really liked this. This book took turns I wasn’t expecting, particularly in regard to Akin’s character, and it kept me hooked throughout.
I know it’s only March, but so far this is definitely one of my favourite books of the year. Ayobami Adebayo’s writing is beautiful, I was highlighting so many passages as I was reading. It’s hard to go into this book too much without spoiling it, but I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys intricate, character-focused novels. This is an astonishing debut, and I’m really looking forward to whatever Ayobami Adebayo writes in the future!