The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women in English from throughout the world.
In this series of articles we will look at each of the six shortlisted titles in detail, but you can also see an overview of the full shortlist.
Stay With Me
Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, all she wants. So when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. Desperate to get pregnant before her rival, Yejide tries everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God – until her hopelessness leads to betrayal when she finally becomes pregnant.
Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s 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.
About the author
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀’s stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, and one was highly commended in the 2009 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. She holds BA and MA degrees in Literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. She also has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where she was awarded an international bursary for creative writing. Ayobami has been the recipient of fellowships and residencies from Ledig House, Hedgebrook, Threads, Ebedi Hills and Ox-Bow. She was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Stay With Me is her debut novel.
Have you read Stay With Me? Do you want to know what other readers thought? You can leave a review, read a review or add the book to your group’s reading list.
What our readers thought
12 of our brilliant reading groups have been shadowing the Prize this year, alongside three dedicated Library Ambassadors. Here are some of their experiences:
The Three Horseshoes Reading Group
“Overall we really enjoyed Stay with Me and found that we were gripped and fully immersed in the story within the first few pages. It seems that the book will appeal to a wide audience as it can be enjoyed on a number of levels. At face value, the story had many twists and turns which kept us guessing as readers. The subject matter was quite poignant at times but was carefully balanced with humour in other places. None of us have visited Nigeria or had experience of the health issues involved (deliberately being vague so there is no plot spoiler) therefore, we found the book was very elucidating, giving us an insight into the political background, the health concerns, the importance ascribed to folklore and the strong role of tradition.
Yejide, the main character, was very plausible and through her narrative she carried us on the journey through her marriage, her challenges, misfortunes and triumphs. It was easy to have empathy with her. The writing flowed well and was carefully constructed. The main characters seemed very real, although, we did question why Akin behaved as he did on the stairs and we wondered why the author had chosen for him to act that way.
All but one of our group of ten would recommend the book. The member who wouldn’t said she didn’t feel that she was in the right frame of mind for the book and felt that there was a certain subject (not to spoil the plot) that would be discussed between husband and wife and therefore, on that basis, she would not recommend it. We did discuss the difficulty of knowing what would be acceptable for married partners to discuss in such a markedly different culture. The obsession to have a child and the lengths that the main couple in the book go to was very surprising and was thus illuminating to us. The book is very memorable and will live up to its title.
Our meeting to discuss the book was quite an occasion with the extras like the chocolates and the bottle of Baileys. All of our meetings are held at lunchtime in our village pub and it was very kind of the landlords to supply us with the other ingredients to make a Baileys Flat White Martini, complete with martini glasses. The setting and the occasion promoted a very lively meeting. The book spawned quite a few discussions at our meeting covering many different subjects such as mental illness, sickle cell disease, family hierarchies, women’s place in society (not only in Nigeria but also in Europe, America and the UK), loneliness and concepts of happiness.
It has been very interesting to have such close contact with an author, in terms of the access to interviews and the Q and A on Twitter, all of which have given us a much fuller appreciation of the background to the book and the process of writing it. Many thanks to Ayòbámi Adébáyò, The Reading Agency and The Baileys Prize. We’re very pleased to have been invited to take part in such an enjoyable experience.”
London Book Group
“London Book Club was very excited to be chosen to shadow the Baileys Prize. We were even more excited to be given Stay with Me, by Ayòbámi Adébáyò, as our book as it was already on a number of our TBR lists but none of us had read it yet.
We were universal in enjoying the book and it was a great book club option, provoking lots of discussion (we sometimes find this rare when we all like the book!). As is our tradition, we started by sharing our ‘one word descriptions’ for the book. These included; pressure, introspective, unexpected, compelling, turmoil, patriarchy, and ‘surprisingly funny’ (okay, not one word, but still a fair description). We agreed that it was warm, evocative and accessible, and had an interesting side-discussion about the politics of the book having been written in English.
The centre of our conversation was, naturally, the twist in the plot (warning: slight spoilers ahead) and our feelings about the actions and responses of the Yejide, Akin, and Dotun as they dealt with Yejide and Akin’s childlessness and the solution that Akin devised. Was it believable? Why wouldn’t he have told her what was going on with him? Why would he be surprised that his plan went so off the rails? This kind of thing always goes off the rails and we know, after all, that he’s seen at least one film…We spent a good amount of time discussing the kind of communication that we expect between mutually loving partners – and the technicalities of sex – as we adjudicated betrayal and justification.
What we really appreciated is that no character is wholly unsympathetic: although most of our sympathies were for Yejide we could understand, to some extent, why Akin would be unwilling to tell her about his problem. It was particularly interesting that it made us face into the reality of our own white Anglo-saxon-ness as a group and how has an effect upon our ability to put ourselves into the world that Adébáyò describes. A number of our members have been doing ‘Read Harder’ as a challenge this year so we’ve been trying to stretch ourselves in the diversity of book’s we’ve been reading. Stay with Me was a great book in helping us along that journey.
Library Ambassador Vicki
“This is an amazingly assured debut novel. Set in Nigeria with the backdrop of all the political and social upheavals, it is nonetheless a story about a marriage. It is also about obsession the absolute desire to have a child and then the desperate need to keep that child alive.
Ayòbámi Adébáyò takes you on a journey with an incredible sense of place and then draws in your emotions as you feel the pain of Yejide.
She is also a master storyteller. Just when you think you have a handle on what is happening then wow it all changes. OK you settle to the new reality and then she does it again and again. I cannot say too much as it would contain spoilers.
This will make a fantastic reading group book and is unmissable for anyone who likes fantastic writing, with twists and turns that will have you open mouthed."