Book: Stay With Me
Author: Ayobami Adebayo
Publisher: Canon Gate, 2017
Reviewer: MUTHOKI MUMO
Books have their gastronomic equivalents. Some are candy floss, so light that you hardly notice the devouring, yet the guilt stays with you for days.
Some books are whole grain and rock hard. They do not leave a pleasant impression on your palette but you are righteously proud of having consumed them— I loved that 1,000- page tome on the beauty of the mundane in the same way I adore bran-chia-pumpkin-seed granola.
The best books, like the best meals, are a bouquet of flavours and textures. They challenge your palette while remaining sinfully delicious. They nourish you but are still surprising enough to leave an after-taste of mystery.
The gastronomic equivalent of Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel, Stay with Me, is one of my favourite meals— rice drenched in coconut milk accompanied by a stew of beef cooked so gently that chewing is hardly necessary. It is an easy and delicious book to read.
It is a novel of love at first sight—a look across a dark cinema irrevocably changes the life paths of our protagonists, Yejide and Akin. It is also a book about how, under the weight of social expectations and poisoned by secrets, this love “bends, cracks, comes close to breaking”.
Yejide and Akin’s marriage sours as they unsuccessfully battle infertility in 1980s Nigeria. Yejide expectedly bears the brunt of this battle. She climbs literal and figurative mountains in search of a child. She comes back empty-handed even after she treks to the top of the “Mountain of Jaw-Dropping Miracles”.
She bears the indignity of opening up her marriage to a second wife and the guilt of the forbidden depths to which she goes to finally conceive.
And even then, it seems that fate is determined to punish Yejide as the first and then the second of her children dies, leaving indifference as her only refuge when she suspects that a third child might follow the same path.
Yet, what Yejide does not know, and what Adebayo reveals to the reader in small measured doses, is that Akin also carries his own powerful secrets. And as these seep out, they poison the marriage and paint a picture of the dangerous naiveté that society’s sexual mores force on women.
The secrets that unfurl in Stay with Me are delicious. The portrait of Yejide and Akin’s marriage is an intellectually nourishing study of society.
But the book falls short of challenging the reader’s world view, forcing them to discover something new in themselves or in their society.
Returning to my gastronomic metaphor, the book is a coconut rice and beef dish—delicious each time I eat it.
However, it is a familiar dish, still lacking in that unique bite, that surprise that is key to all magnificent meals. But I am ready to sit at Adebayo’s table again, to try what she might choose to serve us next.