Title: Stay With Me
Author: Ayobami Adebayo
Publisher: Canongate Books
This book was first put on my radar when it was longlisted for The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction this year (2017). And let me tell you, I will be forever grateful it did. For me, the experience of reading this book demonstrates what is so magical about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, as without it I may never have picked Stay With Me up. Which would, I assure you, have been a great loss for me.
The book itself takes place in 1980s Nigeria and predominantly follows Yejidi, whose husband Akin, in the very first few pages of the book, takes a second wife without informing Yejidi that he is about to do so. Although he is not alone in their circle of family and friends to marry multiple women he did so against the express wishes of his first wife. The reason that Yejidi’s life is suddenly turned upside down is due to her inability thus far in their marriage to conceive a child and the pressure that has incurred from Akin’s family to find a wife who can. From that point on nothing unfolds as you might predict.
With every twist and turn in this book, I fell more in love with it. It never settled into a predictable narrative that allowed by interest to wane. Perhaps it is just me, although I don’t think so, but I never guessed exactly what was coming and each time I felt the book was heading in a certain direction it took me by surprise, again and again. Not only is it pleasant to never know what is coming, the shape that the plot took added to my overall investment in the character’s stories. This sense of curiosity and sometimes anxiety kept their lives real for me in the way that you can never truly predict the path your own life will follow.
I could not have felt as invested in this story, however, if it had not been for the characters themselves. Each felt well rounded and complex, compassionate and underhanded actions alike.Yejidi, in particular, felt so real to me and although I have never and will never experience many of the things she did I could empathize with the struggles she faced. One of the stifling attitudes that society, seemingly universally, directs towards women, including Yejidi, is the interweaving of female identity with motherhood. Adebayo, in part, uses moments in Stay With Me to explore this expectation of women, who may very well wish to be mothers but still experience the negative effect this pressure can have upon them.
Stay With Me manages to simultaneously explore individual identity, relationships, family and the experience of cultural and societal expectations across different generations and people; it does this all within 296 pages. That in itself may be the most astonishing thing of all.
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