Monday, 5 March 2018

Stay With Me - Ayobami Adebayo

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A well told story that works on many levels.

Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel is really impressive and considering her academic background, it only seems logical. Her masters degree in literature and creative writing forms the foundation for this well honed talent. It is displayed to good effect in this book.

I came across this novel after it was chosen as the Mumsnet book of the month for March. Apparently, it was also shortlisted for the Women's Prize in Fiction and has garnered a lot of praise. However, my first impressions of the book were a bit sceptical -  it sounded like a treatise on the exploitation and unfair treatment to a women in a rigid society. But Adebayo's writing and plot pacing makes it a refreshing and an insightful read.


Yejide runs a salon and is quite a successful businesswomen. However, its been four years since she is married to Akin, and they are still waiting to have kids. Looking for options, her mother-in-law arranges for her husband to have a second wife to help Yejide conceive. Yejide goes to drastic lengths to make it happen. In the process she embarks on a journey full of heartbreak and insight as she lives the consequences of her decisions.

What works:
  • The beginning is so strong. It draws the reader in while providing a political, cultural context. The short chapters are brisk and drops the reader right in the midst of action. We quickly learn of Yejide and her dilemma and are swept into the story. 
  • Adebayo packages the Nigerian culture very neatly into the plot too. The words, the habits are beautifully incorporated. It is "exotic" but it also provides insight into how the society works. She has a very matter of fact approach about how something like childlessness becomes a public topic with everyone offering advice and solutions. Reminiscent of the Indian culture.
  • Adebayo displays a keen sense of plotting. Throughout the narrative there is an edge-of-the seat feeling. There is a constant element of suspense, throwing off the reader and her assumptions. 
  • Adebayo also portrays a mature angle to love and loss and what it feels like to be ostracised as a childless women. She uses language very effectively to convey this.
  • My favourite line from the book is :
If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love.” 

It encapsulates the relationship between Yejide and Akin and the complicated nature of it. They are allowed to fall in love and get married. However, the happiness of their relationship is marred by societal demands and eventually falls prey to it.
  • The story is packaged quite well. Set in a different cultural milieu with its own rules and regulations the writer is not vary of using another language and alienating the reader. She weaves it quite well in the story while capturing some universal emotions that women all over can relate to. The feelings of desperation and the fear of society is portrayed quite well through Yejide. You feel sorry for her and empathise with her as she takes the steps she does.
What doesn't:
  • The story does not explain a lot of things. It expects the reader to connect some dots often leaving it up to the reader to interpret. Some readers may feel a bit shortchanged, confused. I liked the way the writer leaves the reader to fill up some gaps and for a debut writer to display such confidence is commendable.
Overall, a great debut. This writer knows how to tell a story well while challenging the reader. Superb.

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