‘The reasons why we do the things we do will not always be the ones that others will remember’
Ayòbámi Adébáyò is a new author who, just like Yaa Gyasi and her debut novel, has captivated the world with her debut novel – Stay With Me. This is a book I had put aside for quite a while, not sure if I wanted to get into it but the more I heard people talk about it, the more invested I became and so here we are.
This review won’t be super lengthy so as not to give too much away but to give a brief description – the story is set in the 80s and 90s in Nigeria and revolves around Yejide and Akin, a couple who met in college and have one of the most insightful, yet complicated relationship and marriage.
The intro shows us Yejide 14 years after her marriage and soon reverts back to where it all began back in Ilesa. With a marriage comes the need for children, especially in pre-millenial Africa where society equates marital success to the number of children you produce. After four years of marriage and no child, Yejide is considered barren by her family and her peers and this is taken so seriously because Akin is eventually told to get a second wife and hopefully get a child from her.
Akin and Yejide are two people in love, two people with promise and hope. Hope that is torn away by familial traditions, societal pressures and life in general. Ayobami describes Yejide as a strong and independent woman who does not necessarily lose herself in her marriage but does all she can to keep it together without going insane but at some point actually does. Her husband taking a new wife does something to her that I am sure would happen to any of us today too – she goes to various lengths to get him the child they both want. She feels betrayed by the love of her life but also feels an immense pressure to not fail at eventually being a mother and after much turmoil, a make-believe child, an actual child who dies soon after birth – she is blessed with a son, but one born with not just a terminal illness but bearing the dna of someone that is not her husband.
The plot within this novel is very well laid out with shock factors coming at you at various intervals, keeping you eager to turn page after page wanting to know why? how? when? and what the hell??? The two characters show their different perspectives of married life, the struggle to get a child, life with a terminally ill child, infidelity and the combined efforts both will make to keep their relationship alive as well as to have the family they both so desire. One thing I found quite nerve-racking though was the constant flashbacks – don’t get me wrong – a look into the past isn’t such a bad thing but I feel that the flashback to the exact same scenario (in this case their college years) was a tad tiring for me. I get what she was trying to do with showing us a slightly different scene every time and through either Yejide’s eyes or Akin’s… the first time. The second time was okay too. The third time… I was asking myself how many times will we go back here though? Maybe it’s just me who feels that way but that really was the only thing that made me put the book down for a few days and prepare myself to go back to it when I was ready to take another trip back into Ife University.
Ayobami is a talented writer and story teller, she weaves her words in a most straight-forward, yet intrinsic way – keeping the story going until it comes to a most abrupt halt (Spoiler alert – the end really doesn’t feel like the end of Akin and Yejide’s story…) In an interview with Vogue earlier this year, Ayobami is described as having ‘such dedication to the written word which shows in her bold narrative sensibility, from the way she informs the dimensionality of her characters to her mastery of plot—while the book, at times, moves full speed ahead, taking unexpected turns, no event seems convoluted or set up for the sole purpose of shock value.’
Stay With Me is an emotional story of marriage, it’s disintegration and the hurt that occurs along the way. A compulsive and intense read that you won’t want to end as soon as you begin.