A Monster Calls: Film Review

Very rarely, you experience something that feels like a punch to the gut. That feeling of a thud, followed by a deep resounding reverberation through your stomach, and then your chest, and all you can muster is a gentle ‘oh’ that leaves your mouth more as an exhalation than as a word.

I have had this particular feeling very few times in my life, and I have never quite had that feeling while watching a film before. That is, until, I watched A MONSTER CALLS.

Based on Patrick Ness’ book of the same name, A MONSTER CALLS follows young Connor, a boy coping with more than any child should have to deal with – the impending loss of his mother. His world is punctuated with the calming sound of pencil against paper, sketching and illustrating his pain and everything he cannot possibly say.

Then one night, at precisely 12.07am, the Monster arrives at his window.

I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot than I have to, because this film is best experienced free of prior knowledge. Whilst I am generally an advocate of reading the book before watching the film adaption, I think this film is perhaps most powerfully felt by a viewer who knows very little of the story before going into the theatre.

A major factor is the power of this film is the art direction and styling of the film. There is so much thought that has gone into every square inch of colour and movement overseen and the vivid colours play such a role in how we react to Connor’s story. The use of watercolour like animation to depict the Monster’s telling of stories is strikingly beautiful and brings a warmth to the film that is often cut short by the harshness of Connor’s reality, making us value the incredible moments of escapism even more.

However, the thing that struck me the most in this film was the use of silence. Only one other film has used silence as masterfully as A MONSTER CALLS does (in my own viewing experience that is). So much of this film is brought to us in diegetic silence, as life often is for a child who is forced to deal with situations such as those Connor is placed in. So much is left unsaid, and in those moments we see Connor and the people around him more clearly than dialogue could ever allow. And those moments of silence are allowed to breathe in a way most films don’t allow. There is no overwhelming soundtrack trying to fill those moments with pop songs, just simple orchestrations and muted sounds that let the fullness of the emotional response to the action exist without interruption.

A special mention, of course, needs to be made of the acting skills of Lewis MacDougall who plays Connor. Placing a child alongside such magnificent actors as Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver, and having them not only hold their ground, but blow them out of the water, is brilliant. There is a rawness and vulnerability to MacDougall’s performance, and more than once I cried simply as a reaction to the change in his eyes alone.

Liam Neeson plays his part as the Monster brilliantly, his voice lending itself perfectly to the storytelling and wisdom of the Monster. My only concern about the Monster is that people will see the Monster and won’t be able to unsee its physical similarities to Groot (of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY). I will say though that the design work and animation is far more intricately detailed than that of Marvel’s Groot, and I think that may help distance the two from each other in the audience’s mind.

I was incredibly lucky to be invited by Walker Books and Entertainment One to see a special press screening of A MONSTER CALLS in a small theatre setting. The intimacy of the space made the film even more affecting and of the fifteen or so other people there, there was not a dry eye in the house when the film ended. Every grown man in that room wept more than once, and when the film ended, everyone sat there for a moment in stunned silence, hit rather forcefully by the emotion and power of the film. It was incredible to see this film garner such a reaction.

I highly recommend that everyone see A MONSTER CALLS on the big screen – a film as powerful as this deserves that. More than that, if you can see this film in a small cinema, you should, if only to feel the intimacy of this film more intensely. This is a film that will never leave you, and I can’t imagine a film more perfectly depicting the loneliness and pain of childhood loss than this.

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A MONSTER CALLS is released in cinemas 27 July 2017.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia and Entertainment One for inviting me to see a special press screening of A MONSTER CALLS.

 

Please note: I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

‘The Cut’ & Brexit: An Interview with Peirene Press’ Meike Ziervogel

Peirene Press are masters of translated European fiction that speaks to the heart and soul of a particular moment in time. Last year, Peirene Press took a leap and began the Peirene Now! Series, commissioning short novels about current events that are heavily shaping our world today. Last year’s breach was one of the most introspective novels I have ever read, taking the experiences of refugees in the Calais refugee camps and turning them into incredibly heartbreaking short stories. In 2017, Peirene Press have published the second book in the Peirene Now! Series – The Cut. The Cut is a brilliantly written exploration of Britain and the people who voted in the Brexit referendum and uthor Anthony Cartwright gives equal space to both sides of the debate, whilst weaving a complex web of human relationships.

The Cut is the first novel I have seen, let alone read, about Brexit. Whilst the Brexit vote and recent General Election in the UK have been heavily documented by the media, The Cut is the first literary take on the effects of the vote and the implications for the British public. The book itself was funded by a kickstarter campaign that raised £6,745 ($11,412 AUD), so it is clear that this is a book that people not only wanted to read, but wanted to have a hand in producing.

I was lucky enough to interview Meike Ziervogel, founder and commissioning publisher at Peirene Press, about The Cut. A writer herself, Meike grew up in Northern Germany, before moving the the UK in 1986. Our interview is below…

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HAYLEY: First of all, thanks for taking the time out to discuss The Cut with INWORDSANDINK. So, how did the idea for the Peirene Now! Series come about?

MEIKE: Peirene’s specialises in translated fiction. This means that we can only choose from what is already out on the market in another country. Over the last few years, we started to realise that there are sometimes urgent issues we like to see addressed in literature but we couldn’t find a story about it anywhere. So we decided to set up a series of commissioned novels responding to pressing topics that are concerning us and our readers right this very moment.

HAYLEY: How important was it to you to commission a novel about Brexit?

MEIKE: The referendum has been one of the most important political events in the UK this century. It concerns us all.

HAYLEY: Why did you decide to commission the novel after Brexit rather than beforehand (as a speculative novel perhaps)?

MEIKE: Brexit hasn’t happened yet. So I commissioned the novel – and the novel was written – before Brexit, but – of course – after the decision to leave the EU.

Before the referendum I lived in a bubble. I assumed there would be no Brexit – ever. The outcome of the referendum was a shock and a wake-up call for me. I suddenly understood that I live in a divided country. I commissioned Anthony Cartwright to create a literary bridge between the two Britains that opposed each other on referendum day.

HAYLEY: What about Anthony made you decide he was the person to write this book?

MEIKE: I wanted a story that would make me see what I previously wasn’t aware of. Anthony comes from the Black Country where many people voted for Brexit. His four previous novels are all set in Dudley. Emotionally and psychologically he understands the area and he empathizes with the people who voted ‘no’ to the EU. Moreover he is a very good writer. Before I commissioned Anthony I read his fourth novel, ‘Iron Towns’ and I enjoyed it. I could see that Anthony would be bring the right sensibility to the subject matter.

HAYLEY: How did you negotiate what this book would discuss? What was that process like?

MEIKE: Anthony’s remit was to create an artistic response to what had become apparent during the referendum – the division of this country into two halves. Initially we discussed possible story lines. Then we had editorial meetings after each draft, discussing and refining the story line, imagery and characters.

HAYLEY: What about this book really spoke to you about pre- and post-Brexit Britain?

MEIKE: It was only after the book had been completed and I could take a step back from it – read it like a reader and not as an editor –  that I realised how Anthony’s subconscious had thrown up the perfect image for the situation in our country. We, i.e. both sides of the divided country, The Remainers and Brexiteers, are in bed together. We have a relationship – a troubled one, yes but we have to live together. We can’t get away from each other. In The Cut neither Cairo nor Grace want their relationship to end badly. We – the Remainers and the Brexiteers – have to be careful that our relationship, too, doesn’t end badly. I believe that neither side really wants that to happen.

HAYLEY: As someone who was born in Germany, what does a book like THE CUT mean to you? What about it speaks to your experiences as a European immigrant in a country that has rejected the EU?

MEIKE: I have dual nationality. I have lived all my adult life in the UK. This is my home. I, too, need to change, in order to change the political situation. I can no longer excuse my lack of political engagement. And so I have now become a member of the Liberal Democrats and I campaigned for them during the last election.

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The Cut is available in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene Press. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Cut, and to Meike for taking the time out to answer my questions. Please note, 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

A Gilmore Girl’s Guide to Culture: A Review of Brodie Lancaster’s ‘No Way! Okay, Fine’

I love a good feminist essay collection/memoir, especially when a book like that talks about topics of particular interest to me. From Clementine Ford’s Fight Like A Girl, to Lauren Elkin’s Flaneuse, the last twelve months have brought me some brilliant feminist non-fiction, and now Brodie Lancaster’s No Way! Okay, Fine has made its way into that beloved collection.

No Way! Okay, Fine is the first book from Richell Prize shortlisted writer Brodie Lancaster. A brilliant feminist essay collection/memoir/pop culture criticism novel, No Way! Okay, Fine is a book that was desperately needed by newly minted “adults” in Australia. This book spoke to my own experiences of growing up in a way that a lot of similarly classified books by international authors have not, and I was incredibly grateful to find a voice that shared beliefs and experiences like my own in this book.

Brodie discusses topics as varied as body image, coming of age stories, the idea of home, living and working abroad as a young person, feminism, Kanye West and the Kardashians, taste hierarchies and family. Each chapter of her book details an honest and incredibly down to earth viewpoint (or in many cases, series of viewpoints) of a topic that will resonate not only with young Australians, but readers of nearly all backgrounds. Despite prefacing her opinions and experiences with the fact that her work comes from a middle class white female, there are moments and ideas throughout this collection that could easily speak to a number of varied experiences.

Perhaps one of the thoughts from her book that resonated with me the most was Brodie’s take on how public pop culture tastes are categorised and judged, especially in terms of deeming a person’s likeability based on their tastes. It paralleled some of the thoughts vocalised by author Brit Bennett at this year’s Sydney Writers Festival, namely that of the dismissal of young girls as valuable tastemakers despite the fact that a significant amount of popular culture is shaped by their wants and desires. “What are young men and boys into?” asked Brit Bennett, “No-one knows. But if I ask you what young women and girls are into right now, you could probably list a bunch of things.” Brodie’s chapters on Kanye, the Kardashians, One Direction, and music particularly speak to this. Brodie’s recounts of her teenage desire to get in with the boys sees her try to replicate their tastes at multiple times, only to find that her own tastes are just as valuable if not the popular tastes themselves. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it isn’t just a valid a taste choice – a lesson this book dishes out without any remorse.

Brodie Lancaster’s writing itself is brilliant. I could not help thinking that she and I would be great friends, just from reading her writing. With a heavy serving of Gilmore Girls references for all possible situations, I found myself reading No Way! Okay, Fine late into the night and loving every bit. Her down to earth approach to writing, with a clear cut sense of self and desire to be true to her style, makes Brodie one to keep an eye on, and I would highly recommend No Way! Okay, Fine to any and all readers looking for the perfect place to start a love of local non-fiction.

 

Brodie Lancaster’s No Way! Okay, Fine (Hachette, RRP $32.99)  is available from 27 June 2017 in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of No Way! Okay, Fine. 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

“Do You Hear Me?”: A Review of Larry Tremblay’s ‘The Orange Grove’

Please Note: This review discusses suicide bombings, terror organisations, and violence against refugees, particularly children. In light of recent and ongoing attacks happening worldwide, I understand if this review is distressing as a result of its sensitive subject matter and I understand if you are not currently in the right emotional or mental space to continue to read this review. I have approached my review of The Orange Grove with the deepest respect for all victims of suicide bombings, terror attacks and other acts of senseless violence, and I send all my love to the victims of these attacks worldwide.

 

Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove is one of those books that change you. It fundamentally changes how you think and feel about a major contemporary issue. But it is also a book that makes you feel conflicted about that change, largely because that issue here is suicide bombings.

This book follows the story of young twins Ahmed and Aziz, who live with their parents and grandparents next to the family’s orange grove in the shade of the mountains. However, when their grandparents die as a result of a bomb being dropped on their house, the family is forced to confront the violence of the country’s civil war. A local militant group comes to the house to recruit one of the boys to strap on a belt of explosives and detonate it on the other side of the mountain, taking not only the lives of the believed bombers of their grandparents house, but also their own life. The catch: their parents have to decide which of their nine year old sons to sacrifice for the cause, the healthy Ahmed, or the terminally ill Aziz.

I’ll be honest. It was hard to read this book. Not because it wasn’t a good book, but because it was a brilliant book about something that is terribly and heartbreakingly real – the problem of violence committed by people who believe that their violent acts are justified and necessary.

I want to make it clear that in no way does this book justify suicide bombings, or indeed any other act of violence. Instead, it makes readers think about the term ‘victim’ in a more nuanced way, including those who are deliberately misled and coerced into committing acts of violence on behalf of organised terror groups in that victim label. When one of these boys walks over the mountain to blow himself and the believed perpetrators of his grandparents death, he is just as much a victim of the violence as the victims of his explosives belt. Especially since he and his family have deliberately been misled to think that the other side of the mountain holds military warehouses that are used to destroy the citizens on the orange grove side.

The other side of the mountain holds a refugee camp.

After sacrificing their son for what they had been led to believe was an act of rebellion against military brutality, the family is then left to live with the knowledge of what their son’s death was really for – the push for power by the leader of the local terror group. And that makes any reader’s heart break. You know from the way this family speaks to each other, how they love their community and how much they want peace, that they had no idea they were being misled. You can’t help but realise they are just as much victims as any person on the other side of the mountain – pawns in someone else’s game.

I am always interested in reading books from the perspectives of characters that have traditionally been rendered as side characters or background noise in novels. By taking this family, particularly the two boys Ahmed and Aziz, and positioning them as both perpetrators of violence and also victims of the local terror group, Tremblay has forced us to take a more nuanced look at how we view acts of violence worldwide. The victim/perpetrator binary is a far too simplistic way to discuss these events, and by breaking down the binary and forcing a discussion about the long lasting effects of these events on both sides of any act of violence, we are better positioned to consider solutions to these acts.

Beyond the violence, this book is about brotherhood, about the bond between Ahmed and Aziz, and about the love they have for each other. Both of them is scared for the other, and yet, it is the sacrifice of one brother in the name of the other that ultimately defines this book. I won’t reveal which brother dies, but I will say that perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the whole book comes from the brother who survives. For anyone who reads this books, you will find that the last section of this book from the perspective of the twenty year old survivor who leaves his home country for a better life is the hardest to read. Living with survivor’s guilt, and the knowledge that his twin died killing innocent people, it is the monologue that concludes the book that perhaps gives the greatest insight into the devastation of victimhood and pain. The final words that echo after the turn of the last page still haunt me:

“Do you hear me?”

Because we don’t often hear the people on the other side, the people who have been consistently demonised by media because of their actions. Yes, terrorism, suicide bombing and other acts of violence are awful events, but we are never the only victims. And we need to be careful about who we blame for these events. After reading this book, it is clear that in the circumstances of The Orange Grove, the leader of the local terror group deliberately lying to local families is the one who is responsible for all the pain, violence and death – but in real life, it is not always so simple to see this. So we need to be careful. Not all people who press the button want to be there, and not all of them know who they are ‘fighting’.

This is an extremely complex and compelling book by a Canadian author whose work I will continue to follow, and I encourage you to read this incredible book if only to challenge your conception of the victim/perpetrator binary. As always, I want to make mention of the incredible work of the translator of this novel, Sheila Fischman, who translated this book from Quebec French into English for Peirene Press. Without translator such as Fischman, so much work from non-English speaking writers would be lost to us and I am incredibly grateful for their work.

Of course, the experiences shown in this book do not represent the circumstances of all terror attacks or suicide bombings, and in the wake of recent events, I feel it is especially important to make it clear that this book is not representative of the backstory of every instigator of violent attacks. But, nonetheless, I think that this book should be read as part of our self-education, particularly at a time where media representations of the ‘other’ are becoming increasingly political and difficult to navigate.

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Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove is available from June 2017 in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene Press. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Orange Grove. 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

“With All His Aching Heart”: A Review of ‘RELEASE’ by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is one of those authors whose name you know even if you have never read a single one of his books. You have seen his books in bookstores, in your libraries and even in the hands of your friends. But if ever there was a time to pick up a Patrick Ness novel, it is now.

Release, the newest book from Ness, has been published this month, and it is a total gem. The book follows Adam who is having one of the most confronting days of his life. From friends moving away to family issues to relationship crises to workplace harassment and down to his own struggle to feel loved by the people around him, Release unabashedly tackles some of the most poignant themes and issues of being a young person with eye opening clarity.

Release carries with it echoes of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, a deliberate choice acknowledged by the author both in his author’s note and in the opening line of the novel – “Adam would have to buy the flowers himself.” I have never been the biggest fan of Mrs Dalloway, but Ness’ homage to the classic is brilliantly done. Much like Mrs Dalloway, Release takes place over the course of a single day with flashes of the past colouring the book in vivid detail. More than that, it is a carefully preserved flash of what it is like to be a young person in a world that is often still stuck in the past.

Release also owes a debt of gratitude to Judy Blume’s infamous Forever. The frank and somewhat explicit depictions of sex, discussions around loss of virginity and the boundaries of love and sex in relationships are crucial in the telling of this story, particularly when it comes to Adam’s ability to recognise and define his own attachments to other people. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing X-rated in these pages, but I would not recommend this book to younger readers. In my opinion, Release fits more aptly into the category of New Adult fiction than young Adult fiction, but I leave this up to your own judgement.

What made this book different from the typical Young Adult/New Adult novels I have read about young love, sex, and identity, was the strange yet stunning intertwinement of the ghost storyline into the book. At times, the sudden break in Adam’s storyline and shift into the perspective of the faun spirit following his Queen seemed abrupt and weird, yet it was entrancing all the same. Stemming from the news of the death of a local girl at the hands of her meth-head boyfriend, the spirit storyline brought with it the same sort of power as Adam’s storyline, as Katie, the young dead girl, confronts the people she knew in life, including her murderer, to enact her final judgements upon them. Paralleled with Adam’s grief and difficulties with his family, the spirits give the reader a chance to see what anger could have done to him in his times of pain, and what vengeance he could enact on the people who hurt him. However, it is Adam’s choice to be vulnerable and open to love that makes him fundamentally different, and what inadvertently ends the rage of the spirits.

My one criticism of this novel is the open thread left regarding the sexual harassment Adam faces at work from his boss. Seeing the struggle Adam has with the imbalance of power and the potential consequences of reporting his boss, alongside his own father’s doubt about the legitimacy and basis of the crime is one of the parts of this novel that really got at me, and so I would have liked to have seen some closure regarding this particular event. The novel ends with Adam’s co-workers pledging to help him get justice for the harassment, but ultimately, I think that I would have liked to see more done here. In saying that though, the conversation Adam has with his father about the sexual harassment and blackmail is one of the most heartbreaking discussions I have read in fiction lately, especially when it concludes with Adam’s father blaming Adam’s homosexuality for the advances from his boss, and final admission that he doesn’t love his son unconditionally – “You have know idea how much I work to love you”. Those words were a punch to the gut for both Adam and I.

Ness’ prose is exquisite. The ease and pulse of the writing meant that I devoured this book in just under 24 hours, whilst taking in every detail described. I felt at home in this story, despite some of the unfamiliar territory it covered. I felt as though Adam’s friend Angela was my own friend, and honestly, I did see a lot of my own friendships in the close bond that Adam and Angela shared. The friendship between them is one of the big standouts of this novel for me, and I think that is what held this novel together so well in amongst all the chaos of the events themselves. I think it is fair to say that this is a coming of age story for people who have already taken their first steps in adulthood, and reading this book with that perspective only enriches the story that Ness gives us in Release.

This is a novel that I will be passing onto friends, and I highly encourage you to get out and get your hands on a copy of this moving and tender novel. You won’t regret it.

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Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, RRP $24.99) is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of Release. 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

A Bold Yet Bittersweet Verse: A Review of Crossan & Conaghan’s ‘We Come Apart’

 

When We Come Apart was released in March, there was a lot of buzz about it online. It was constantly coming up on my twitter feed and was dominating discussions of Young Adult fiction online. Needless to say I was curious.

So when I received a copy of the book in a surprise bundle of books from Bloomsbury Australia, I couldn’t resist reading it as soon as possible. And believe me when I say, I was not disappointed.

We Come Apart makes something new out of Young Adult fiction. Authors Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan made the bold move of writing the whole book in verse, a form usually reserved for poetry or plays. In choosing to write a book for teenagers and young adults in this form, Conaghan and Crossan have opened up an opportunity for these young audiences to read something in verse without being hindered by the presumption that it is going to be beyond their reach or even ‘boring’ as many young people view Shakespeare or most poetry to be. Instead, We Come Apart brings a relatable story for young people to new life, by challenging the ways we tell our stories.

The book itself is a relatively easy and fast read, not only because of the sparse and carefully chosen language, but also because of the story itself. Jess and Nicu are the kind of people we all know – the girl who pretends she doesn’t care to hide how much she does care, and the immigrant boy who wants more than what his old life could offer him. Personally, I found Nicu to be the most interesting character to read through. His chapters were often the ones with the most beautiful language choices, even hidden in the markings of his struggles with English as his second language. It is Nicu who gives us the book’s title, and the meaning behind it. It is Nicu who breaks our hearts. And it is Nicu who will probably stay with me long after Jess.

In saying that though, Jess’ storyline is not without incredible writing. There is a lot hidden in her narrative, and I wish I could know what she does after the last page. We leave her with a whole uncertain future ahead of her and when I finished the last page, I wanted to know what happens to her just as much as I wanted to know what happened to Nicu. For me, it reminded me a lot of the last pages of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars – it conjured the same feeling of wanting to know, yet feeling like knowing what happens next would ruin what just happened on the page. I was incredibly emotionally invested in this story, and for me, that is the mark of a great book.

This is a book I would recommend to all teens, especially those who have previously struggled with poetry, plays or any other verse. We Come Apart is striking and beautifully composed, and I wish more authors were willing to be bold in their choices while writing YA Fiction. I applaud Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan for being bold and making something incredible out of it.

 

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We Come Apart (Bloomsbury, $17.99) 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 Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a copy of Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan’s We Come Apart 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

Singing A Much Needed Song: A Review of Ayobami Adebayo’s ‘Stay With Me’

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.

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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