Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

This book. This goddamn book. It’s so good. So, so good.

I enjoy a lot of African writing; of course the mighty Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I studied French-speaking African writers at university, including Boubacar Boris Diop, Mariama Bâ and Calixthe Beyala. So, when this appeared on the Bailey’s shortlist, I was immediately all in. I was lucky enough to receive a copy from Canongate through work, which I am super grateful for.

It’s the story of Yejide, who is struggling to conceive a child despite having been married for a few years. She’s coming under a huge amount of pressure from her family, but particularly from her mother-in-law, who pushes Akin, the husband, to take a second wife. Meanwhile Yejide is so desperate for a child that she is turning to a so-called “prophet” who has her breastfeed a goat.

That’s about all I can say about the plot without spoiling anything, because this is a novel with an enormous number of twists and turns, relentlessly putting Yejide through more and more pain. While I have never been in a remotely similar position to Yejide, her anguish was so vivid that it felt personal and familiar to me in an incredible way. It is just crisis after crisis after crisis, which makes it both painful to read and incredibly compelling.

While the novel is predominantly narrated from Yejide’s point of view, it is interspersed with chapters from Akin’s perspective, which add depth and nuance to their troubled marriage. These are often the chapters which reveal an unexpected twist, which makes you go over the rest of the novel in your head and realise that the seeds of these ideas have been sown throughout, but so subtly that you never could have pieced it together.

Personally, I think this might be the Bailey’s winner. This is a raw, emotional novel, in which Nigeria’s political turmoil takes a backseat to the internal workings of a marriage. It will tear your heart out, and you should read it immediately. It absolutely blows my mind that a debut author has produced this, and I will be reading absolutely everything she writes in the future.

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