Stay WIth Me is an impressive debut that fills its pages with undulating themes of loss, grief, secrecy, infidelity and relational intimacy. It can certainly hold its own in the category of “you just can’t put it down” and yet I frequently did. I had to, in all honesty - and it wasn’t because the narrative failed to engage me. In fact quite the opposite; Adebayo is such a clever writer because she lures you in and before you know it you’re facing lies, secrecy and betrayal when what you thought you were witnessing was abundant love, generosity and hopefulness. At times you need to let the shock settle - what just happened?
Through the couple Akindele and Yejide, the reader is taken on a journey of the impact of yearning for a child that may not be satisfied and of the hopefulness of new life. What makes the book so compelling are the multiple layers of loss and grief; anticipated, feared, buried, unspoken, added to. When you think nothing else can be endured there is more to face. The political landscape of Nigeria between the 1980s and 2000s serves to deepen this feeling; just when the characters think the police are there to protect them for example, they realise the police are in on the military coup. Surprise, this isn’t the way it was meant to be.
Whilst the political landscape as well as cultural traditions within Nigeria feature throughout the book, they tend to take more of a back seat. Adebayo seems to have made a decisive effort to put maternal psychology, infertility and infidelity (as well as the systemic and relational impact of these) firmly in the limelight. Adebayo’s skill lies in putting words to feelings and situations that often leave many speechless. And when we are left with only feelings and no words to create meaning or to reach out to others with, it is another kind of heartbreak and loss.
The subject matter of Stay With Me creates a palpable sadness and yet there are moments of wit and humour subtly interwoven. This creates its own kind of hopefulness and conveys resilience; that there is normality in life continuing outside of private tragedy. It would have been inappropriate for the book to have a happy ever after ending and I’m glad that it didn’t. However what makes Adebayo’s story uplifting is the knowledge of what has been survived and learnt by virtue of having to endure the most challenging of circumstances. In this It leaves readers with a cue to remain hopeful in the darkest of times.
Stay With Me is a finalist in the Wellcome Book Prize 2018