In a few days the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist will be announced, and in honour of that, I am kicking off my review section of the long list.
When this list was announced in early March, I knew I'd never be able to read all 16 books in a month, however I did read The Power by Naomi Alderman, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride and the book I'm reviewing in this post - Stay With Me. Hopefully by June 7th, the day the winner is announced, I will have read the full long list, have discussed the shortlist in more detail over on my booktube page, and will be try to predict the winner!
I am starting off with Stay With Me because I finished this book today and it is impossible not to want to write about this novel.
The story follows Yejide and her marriage to Akin in 1980s Nigeria. They have been married for four years and their inability to conceive a child is blamed on Yejide. She tries everything, spiritually and medically, to get pregnant, but none of the solutions work. This puts a strain on their marriage and eventually her in-laws decide to introduce Yejide to Akin's second wife, Funmi, who he already secretly married. The second wife is traditionally believed to help the first wife get pregnant - one pregnant womb in the house should encourage another. However, Yejide is not traditional and does not accept this as part of her marriage.
Yejide's drive to look for solutions in a non-traditional way is exactly why I loved her so much. My knowledge of 1980s Nigeria is extremely limited, but the novel, due to amazing description by Ayobami Adebayo, easily sets the scene of the political struggle in the country. This struggle is also seen in the traditional gender roles that are slowly breaking down. While Akin is a respectful husband who encourages Yejide to get an education and haver her own career, his family is focused on her having a son. That's all she is reduced to - a good wife has children, if you don't have children, you're immediately a bad wife.
However, Yejide does not accept this. She keeps trying to conceive a child because she wants to, not because of pressure from the outside. And without spoiling the novel for anyone, Yejide goes through some awful events - events that were even too much for me at times and I usually love dark and twisted tales - and she handles herself with grace and strength. Whatever is thrown her way, Yejide knows how to respond and protect herself, and when needed also Akin. She is not a perfect character and she makes some bad decisions along the way, but I always understood and respected her thinking. There's not a person who can read this book and not root for Yejide and her journey.
Like I mentioned earlier, the writing in this book is phenomenal. Ayobami Adebayo seamlessly weaves together a tale of political unrest, familial drama and the struggles of a marriage. It never seems forced, all the characters are well rounded and every time I opened the book, I immediately saw the whole scene in front of me.
This is one of those books I dreaded finishing. Yejide and Akin felt so very real to me - they are both complex people, who have done some amazing and some awful things - and I just wanted to continue on the journey they were making. The ending was satisfactory, but I can never not want more when a book is so well written.