Like last month’s Mumsnet Book Club read (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman), Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò’ is another stunning debut novel, On first appearances, this novel is very different to Gail Honeyman’s novel with it being set in Nigeria. However, like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, the story is narrated from the perspective of a female, in this case Yejide, but it is also narrated from her husband’s Akin’s perspective. However, it’s Yejide that we really get to know. We feel as if we have been invited to burrow under her skin.
Stay With Me By Ayòbámi Adébáyò’
The novel opens with Yejide waiting in an empty room – which later turns out to be rather symbolic of her life – waiting for something to happen, but at this point we don’t know what. It’s an ominous start to the novel and we soon learn more about her life through flashbacks. We grow to understand Yejide and her relationship with Akin. We can see Akin as she sees him. Our heart breaks for Yejide as she deals with loss after loss. She might be married to Akin but really she is very alone. As the story progresses, through flashbacks, we watch Yejide slowly unravel against the backdrop of a turbulent 1980s Nigeria. Again, this is similar to the journey Eleanor goes on but will Yejide be able to save herself?
The Female Spirit
This is a story about the female spirit and it reminded me of one of my favourite novels, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. This too is a novel which is set against political turmoil and like Stay With Me, we see the differences between the different generations of a family. In Stay With Me the older generation is very rigid in their beliefs and superstitions, distrustful of the modern world and less tolerant. However, the younger generation is more open-minded and ready to embrace a new world. Like Amy Tan in The Joy Luck Club, Ayòbámi Adébáyò’ has brilliantly captured the voices of both generations and the frustrations and miscommunications that occur on both side. In particular, the voice of Moomi is loud and clear. I was easily able to visualise the matriarch of the family. Seemingly obsessed with appearances and worrying what others will be thinking of her and her family. To us, the reader, she can appear cruel as she appears to interfere and meddle in the personal matters of Yejide and her husband, Akin. However, Yejide who was raised by cruel stepmothers adores Moomi and wants to do the best for her. This includes seeking some rather alternative treatments when she doesn’t fall pregnant.
Marriage Isn’t Easy
This story examines relationships, and in particular the relationship between husband and wife. We learn how Yejide and Akin met. How it was love at first sight, well certainly on Akin’s side, and we learn how deeply they care for each other.We also watch dismayed as the interferences from other members of the family and their inability to get pregnant puts their marriage under huge strain and soon they stop communicating altogether.
Hope And Loss
Your heart will break for Yejide who seems so alone. She is desperate to get pregnant, not just for herself but also for her husband and mother-in-law. This leads her to the “Mountain of Jaw Dropping Miracles”, where she is surrounded by bearded men in robes as she breastfeeds a goat. This slightly sinister scene is captured beautifully by Ayòbámi Adébáyò’ who brilliantly depicts Yejide’s initial scepticism through to her desperate need to believe that it works. We then see her mind unravelling over the subsequent months as she believes that she is pregnant. This in turn causes her husband, Akin to seek a rather seedy and alternative treatment for getting his wife pregnant. I won’t share it here because it is one of the major plot twists in the book. Surprisingly, I found myself swaying from dismay at what he was doing through to almost understanding why he was doing it.
The Strength Of Women
Later in the novel it is revealed why Yejide and Akin are unable to have a child and I found this a little farfetched but then I realised that this was because I was coming at it from a very different culture. Things are very different for Yejide and Akin and the culture they are existing in is still one dictated by old fables and superstitions. As a reader, we need to remember that. However, at the heart of this story is a very modern message and one that is universal: it’s about the strength of women.
Undoubtedly the women are the stars of this novel. They show themselves to be incredibly strong, resilient and brave, this is especially so compared to the men, who appear weak, emotionally cut off from their feelings and only concerned with their male pride. So much so that Akin commits a truly horrific act in order to protect his pride. The women might still be flawed, and considered the inferior gender in the very patriarchal Nigerian society, but they are far superior to their male counterparts.
An Unforgettable Novel
This is a unforgettable debut novel and there are instances where the novel really shines. The prose is almost poetic at times and you can appreciate how Ayòbámi Adébáyò’ has been influenced by her fellow Nigerian writer and tutor, Margaret Atwood. A novel about infertility and loss could make for a very depressing read but this novel is far from depressing. It’s a novel about the strength of women, it’s also about hope and as such you will find yourself reading this novel and hoping for a miracle for Yejide because if anyone deserves a miracle it’s Yejide. Does she get that miracle though? You will have to read the novel to find out.
You can purchase Stay With Me By Ayòbámi Adébáyò’ from Amazon.co.uk.
Disclaimer – please be aware that I was gifted this novel as I am working with the Mumsnet Book Club. However, all words, opinions and images are my own.