Stay With Me, the debut novel by Ayobami Adebayo, is a book that I probably won’t stop talking about for a long time, precisely because it is so deeply important and unique a read.
Set in 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me follows the complicated domestic life of Yejide, a woman who has been hoping desperately for a child. Hounded by her husband’s family to produce a male heir to the family name, she has tried everything: medical consultations with fertility specialists, pilgrimages up mountains, dances with prophets and many prayers to her God. However, when her husband is forced by his family to take a second wife, Yejide is forced to confront all the things she thought she was safe from.
It is no wonder such a compelling and original novel such as Stay With Me has been shortlisted as part of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction – Adebayo sings a much needed song about women, their health, their family lives and their fight to be heard above the noise of their communities. Stay With Me is so incredibly different from books I have read in the past. Its expression of Nigerian culture and family life is vivid and living, unafraid to make comment on the banality of the everyday. In saying that, Adebayo tackles subject matter that is usually left undiscussed in literature, from phantom pregnancy to infant death to culturally imposed polygamy. I was particularly captivated by the ways in which Yejide’s husband’s family and the pressure they put on her to conceive ended up causing her to imagine a pregnancy. It was refreshing to read about the intersections between motherhood, family pressure and women’s mental health, especially when they are written about with such intensity. Beyond this, it was interesting to see how the death of multiple children affected the family unit, and how cultural traditions influenced the reception and interpretation of these deaths, even as recently as the 1980s. I will admit I am not very well versed in the cultural traditions of Nigerian communities, but Stay With Me provided an incredible insight into the clash of modern family values and the long-held traditions of families and cultural communities.
Beyond the domestic and family spaces that dominate the narrative, Adebayo explores the tumultuous politics of 1980’s Nigeria, and how the social landscape of Nigeria was changed by reactions to the government and protests against it. From raids of local communities by bandits and gangs, to student protests and acts of revolution, Stay With Me is punctuated with intensely felt descriptions of fear, joy and sacrifice. Paralleled with the turmoil of the home spaces in this novel, readers are captivated by the feeling of helplessness that Yejide so often confesses. Sure she has her independence, but she is also trapped by her own desires – for freedom, for love, for a child, for sexual pleasure, for the ability to feel safe in her own body.
Yejide is a woman like no other, and I can’t help but feel as though she is one of the most uniquely written women I have come across this year in fiction, with an equally unique, diverse and compelling story that everyone should invest it. I can’t help but admire Ayobami Adebayo’s incredible talent for character development and storytelling, alongside her ability to draw our attention towards stories that have traditionally been pushed aside in favour of Western-orientated books. As a debut novel, Stay With Me dazzles, and introduces a new talent to keep our eyes on, and I can’t wait to see what Adebayo writes next. I’m calling it now – she is one of the best voices of our time.
Stay With Me (Allen & Unwin, RRP $27.99) is now available in all good book stores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from, and support their local independent book stores.
Thank you once again to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me for review. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.
© Hayley New 2017