How much can love endure? Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s first novel Stay With Me follows a young couple’s passionate romance and slow estrangement as they endure the hardships that can come with marriage and children. This novel has a surety of voice and an inventiveness of narrative that outshines many older and more experienced novelists.
Yejide fell in love with Akin while she was studying at university, and their intense romance did not dwindle after their marriage. But as the years pass and Yejide fails to conceive a child, a strain is placed on their relationship that is only worsened by family pressure to have children. After Akin’s family convinces him to take a second wife in the hope of conceiving, Yejide becomes increasingly obsessed with having a baby: first to win back the full attention of her husband, but then, as they become more distanced, to have a family member she can truly call her own. As Yejide loses her grip on reality, the wandering threads of the narrative become entangled with the equally unpredictable political situation of Nigeria in the 1980s; the disorder of her domestic life becomes mirrored in the changing government.
Stay With Me is a suspenseful and exhilarating read thanks to the novel’s blend of reality and Yejide’s perception of the world. Because Yejide is such an engrossing heroine, when her experience of the world becomes skewed, the reader is carried with her without realising it. Often in fiction, suggestions that a narrator is unreliable create distance between the reader and the narrator, warning the reader to be wary of what they are reading and to read between the lines. Yet, as Yejide relates the impossible, the reader is only drawn closer to her, wanting to defend her against the characters who do not believe her, and giving even greater credibility to her narrative.
This creates the fascinating effect of giving no firm foothold from which to read the novel, no idea of the rules of the world that Adébáyò’s has created. The reader somersaults through reality with Yejide, so when plot twists are revealed, they have the effect of jarring the reader and Yejide back to earth. Yejide’s inability to recognise truths of her own marriage are made more believable through this idea of how love and depression can cut someone off from reality. The plot twists are made all the more shocking and unpredictable because, like Yejide, the reader has been too cut off to recognise any signs.
Adébáyò’s novel is a compelling combination of gripping page-turner material, impactful commentary on femininity, and experimental narrative. No element of Stay With Me falls short, making it a profound accomplishment in fiction that more than deserves its consideration for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Canongate 2017)
Photo courtesy of Canongate