Title: Stay With Me
Author: Ayobami Adebayo
Genre/Themes: Historical Fiction, Drama, 1980s Nigeria, Yoruba, Love, Marriage, Motherhood, Fertility, Loyalties, Grief, Cultural and Societal Influences/Expectations,
Long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017.
Blurb from Goodreads
‘There are things even love can’t do… If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love…’
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.
Stay With Me told the story of the marriage between Yejide and Akin, a young couple in Ilesa, Nigeria during the 1980s. It painted a searingly honest portrait of love and loyalties and the insidiousness of expectations and grief.
Yejide was a woman looking for that sense of belonging. For security. For someone to stand beside her, to choose her. Her mother died in childbirth and she was looked down upon by her father’s other wives and never truly had that sense of home.
Akin was a first born son. The familial expectations placed upon him by virtue of his birth meant that he always struggled to keep his head above water. To prove his worth.
But Yejide and Akin found each other and they knew that they had found that person, that one. They found that happy ever after…
Or did they?
So many stories end with the happy ever after, this one started out from there. The book was an exploration of love and how it could be influenced by in-laws, by culture, by pride and by shame, by trust, mistrust and by above all, absolute grief.
And for me, it was an absolutely gut wrenching read. From the opening salvo of the first few pages battle lines were drawn and I thought I knew who the villains of the piece were going to be. But I was utterly wrong.
I hated Akin to start with. Absolute hatred for him. But then, and this is what I love the most in books, things started to get complicated. Messy. Circumstances weren’t black and white. Grey was everywhere. Yejide wasn’t as initially likeable as I thought. I saw that she too was fallible. There was no right or wrong. There were just people. Perfectly imperfect people.
These characters were so beautifully drawn that they were capable of eliciting incredible emotion from me as the reader. I loved and I hated. I felt both apathy and empathy. The author was completely unafraid to make her characters hopelessly flawed and therefore all the more human. This book made me feel something on every page.
The story also brought to the fore many Nigerian cultural aspects featuring the Yoruba people. I was fascinated to learn of these traditions and beliefs and it grounded the book in a world that felt very true yet also very otherworldly to someone as I am who has limited knowledge of such things.
As this is Ayobami Adebayo’s first full length novel she has undoubtedly been compared to her fellow Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the media. Adichie is indeed a tough act to step out from under the shade of; I for one am a huge fan of all of Adichie’s work having read all her novels and as many short stories as I can get my hands on. I think Ayobami Adebayo very much has her own individual voice. Like Adichie, Adebayo writes incredibly human characters but in an entirely different and unique way. I believe this will stand to her in the future and am convinced that she will soon be as recognisable a name as Adichie.
I utterly loved this book. It was a glorious study of human relationships and the trials of trying to create a home in this harsh world.
A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Canongate Books, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Published: March 2017