Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo ★★★★

IMG_81511This novel set in 1980s Nigeria is told from the point of views of husband and wife, Yejidi and Akin. Despite pressures embodied in their culture for Akin to take on several wives, the couple had always agreed that they would stay faithful to just each other. However, when a few years into their marriage Yejidi still has not managed to fall pregnant, Akin is pressured into taking a young, second wife. The novel’s themes of love, deceit and the all encompassing desire for motherhood explored here and fascinating to me, and the fact that this novel was shortlisted for this years Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction made me extremely excited to read it. I was not disappointed; not only is this an emotionally powerful novel, it is also packed with surprises.

I loved the complex issues and relationships that this novel explored. The insight into Nigerian society’s views and the high superstitions that revolve around childbearing was fascinating to read about. Furthermore, I found the way that the desire to have children impacted on Yejidi and Akin’s relationship – once so strong and happy after marrying as soon as they fell in love at university – extremely affecting. Adebayo did an extraordinary job of creating and presenting her characters; they were some of the most dimensional characters I have read about in a long time. Yejidi was my favourite character to read about, and through seeing her undertake many apparent cures in a desperation to get pregnant – such as seeing fertility doctors, drinking strange drinks and even breastfeeding a goat on the ‘Mountain of Jaw Dropping Miracles’ – and witnessing her shock, betrayal and hurt when Akin took on a second wife, I was definitely invested in her story and her happiness.

I really enjoyed the plot in this novel; it was much more shocking and exciting than I had anticipated. As well as effectively exploring important themes as aforementioned, the plot had so many twists and turns that made it almost read as a thriller to me. I was constantly sat on the edge of my seat, not knowing what was going to come next, and was hooked by the story line all the way through. Adebayo explores how far strong female spirit and damaging male pride can push you: if you think you may know where this novel will go, I can guarantee you are probably wrong!

Furthermore, I enjoyed and appreciated the way this book was structured. The novel is comprised of short chapters which I really liked; it made it fast paced and engaging. The chapters are not headed with whose point of view they are from however, and on top of this the two voices of Yejidi and Akin are extremely similar, and so this was quite confusing for me towards the beginning as I wasn’t sure who was speaking. As the novel went on however, I started to appreciate this as an extremely clever device used by the author. It was clear that Yejidi and Akin were not as different as they thought and in fact often felt exactly the same way about the situations they faced; they just could not communicate this to each other and this was what caused the majority of the problems between them.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I loved many of the themes that it explored, and was pleasantly surprised by the fast-paced, thriller style of it. I would have loved Adebayo to have delved even deeper into some of the themes that I felt she only touched the surface on, and would have enjoyed reading from Akin’s perspective even more than we got to. While I could see definite room for growth in Adebayo’s writing, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this debut.

 

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