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Review: A Spell of Good Things by Ayòbámi Adébáyò: A Deep Dive Into Economic and Political Class

By Chao Shete

Abuse of power, economic disparity, political class, social order and community: these elements on their own may seem like simple dinner-table conversations, however, rendered into Adébáyò's novel, they're heightened versions of themselves interwoven seamlessly in paperback where she creates art out of the ordinary.

Photo: 'A Spell of Good Things' by Ayòbámi Adébáyò COVER.
Photo: 'A Spell of Good Things' by Ayòbámi Adébáyò

I picked up A Spell of Good Things because I enjoyed reading Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s debut Novel, Stay With Me. On very rare occasions do I find myself reading a book whose storyline is almost a haunting replica of the current political and economic landscape. Set in the 90s, it is a poignant tale that follows a Nigerian Couple struggling to conceive while trying to navigate the fragility of married love. In A Spell of Good Things, Adébáyò is just as eloquent as she continues to double down on themes surrounding modern Nigeria

The storyline interweaves the fate of two families whose choices link their destinies together over time. The opening scene introduces us to 16-year old Eniolá as he endures the first of many humiliations in the story: A vendor, one of his father’s creditors, spits on him in the marketplace. The scene unfolds over several pages, it draws you in by her vivid description of the assault….

“The phlegm had already dribbled down the side of his nose, leaving a damp and sticky trail across his cheek.”

With each line Adébáyò captures the emotional stress of the assault on Eniolá. He is left feeling powerless, and as he reflects, the reader understands that the assault is just but a result of the many life choices- or lack thereof- that were made over the course of a period of time which led to that moment. As one keeps reading, you get the distinct understanding of the characters’ hunger for connection, stability, and for their loneliness to beget some sort of understanding of the world they move through.

In Adébáyò’s world, extreme poverty exists alongside obscene opulence. This is illustrated in another scene where Wúràolá, a 28-year-old hospital resident in the same city, is overworked and subject to the pressures of an underfunded health sector; however, she exists in an altogether different reality because she is affluent and well-educated. The women in her family, though, are oblivious to her promising medical career and can’t think of anything worse than her remaining unmarried at 30. They worry that Wúràolá’s boyfriend, Kúnlé, a TV newscaster and the son of a well-to-do surgeon with political aspirations, is wasting her time.

All of this happens in tandem with the job loss of Eniolá’s father. A situation that marks the beginning of his family’s slow and painful descent to poverty. He is the eldest child, and has big dreams. He aspires to achieve the comfort and success he sees among the middle-class people he admires. He knows that this kind of success that he chases can only be achieved through a University education, however, after his father loses his teaching job, he soon realises that education might be a pipe dream. Following the job-loss, his mother now scours for any plastic bottles and tin she can sell to provide her family with one meal a day, if that. As the plot unfurls, it clearly outlines the impossible choices families must confront daily just to make ends meet — eat, pay rent or pay school fees?

Altogether, both families realise the importance of a good education, but only one has the means to educate their children. The hardships Wúràolá’s mother, Yèyé, experienced growing up have taught her that the world is a harder place to survive than Wúràolá, born into wealth, realises.

Eniolá can work toward building his own professional future, but Yèyé knows what he does not: that “real wealth was intergenerational, and the way Nigeria was set up, your parentage would often matter more than your qualifications.”

The novel leads towards a final devastating convergence where the plot builds up to an upcoming election. It draws a high-stake political race whose political class shows little concern for tackling their constituents’ dire realities, and even makes effective use of those difficulties for their own ends. This staggering reality is brought out perfectly when Eniolá meets Yèyé at the local tailor’s where he runs errands, unable to afford an apprenticeship. Adébáyò vividly conveys how deprivation fuels Eniolá’s descent from determined schoolboy to politician’s thug.

A Spell of Good Things is undoubtedly a timely novel written to urge readers to pay attention to how each one of our lives are intertwined whether rich or poor because of the decisions we make — political or otherwise. The storyline emphasises on the effects of abuse of power and the subsequent repercussions that can destroy lives overnight.


About the Writer

Chao Shete is a writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She enjoys writing fiction, creative non-fiction essays and book reviews. When she is not writing, she spends most of her time getting lost between the pages of a good book.

Twitter: @hope_shete


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