Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, Book reviews, Literary fiction

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀

Stay With Me is the debut novel from Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀ and it’s shortlisted for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

I absolutely loved it so prepare for a review gushing with praise.

Stay with Me

What it’s all about?

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.

What’s good about it?

Everything. In fact, stop reading this review and just read the book right now. Go on. Go.

Where to start…

Firstly, for a debut writer Adébáyọ̀̀ is stunningly accomplished. Her prose is beautiful and her command of narrative structure is sublime (more of that later).

The story is simultaneously unique and universally recognisable – the pressure and expectation to have a family transcend cultures and genders in Stay With Me. I loved that Adébáyọ̀̀ explored fertility issues with a male character (as well as a female one) as this subject is so often solely applied to women.

The strength of voice in Stay With Me is outstanding. Yejide is so real she is almost tangible – I felt her pain, understood her predicament and empathised with her completely, even when her actions were morally questionable. Similarly, her husband Akin is painted with such authenticity that you will be compelled by his every move.

I thought the structure of this book was particularly effective. Stay With Me moves between timeframes and narrators but it’s never clunky or forced – Adébáyọ̀̀ writes with such ease that the narrative courses smoothly along the lifetime of the protagonists. At points, Adébáyọ̀̀ alludes to information she has not yet provided, making you feel like you’ve missed something but then rewarding you with a twist, thrill, draw-dropping revelation or moment of such utter heartbreak that you stay up for another hour just to get more.

It’s tricky to say much more about Stay With Me without giving away spoilers, so I’ll stop and simply advise you to read this book.

What’s not so good about it?

Absolutely nothing. Stay With Me is pitch perfect throughout and Adébáyọ̀̀ is definitely a writer to watch. If this is her debut, there can only be wonderful things to come.

The rest of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has a lot to live up to in order to overshadow this beautiful, intelligent and poignant book.

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