A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Clementine’s Take

Ẹniọlá is a sixteen-year-old tailor’s apprentice who dreams of attending university. But it’s been years since his father lost his job, and while his parents have managed to scrape together his private school tuition, it’s proving harder and harder, and his dreams are slipping away. Wúràọlá is a trainee doctor from a wealthy family, overworked and feeling the pressure to live up to her parent’s expectations as their favoured child. When her boyfriend Kúnlé’s father decides to run for office, these two people – from very different worlds – will be briefly and violently brought together.

To me, this was fine, which is how I felt about Adébáyọ̀’s debut. It’s readable and well-written, with vivid descriptions and plenty pushing the plot forward. But for me, it was nothing special. Everything goes about the way you’d expect it to; the messages and themes are made very clear; there isn’t a lot of depth to the characters, who all seem to boil down to one or two adversities; it’s quite slow and repetitive until the end, when it’s so quick it nearly runs off the rails. This is the type of book that I would recommend widely but that does not scream Booker contender to me. Formally, thematically, structurally it’s not doing anything all that impressive. The messages are simple: wealth inequality is bad. Pressure from your family is bad. Hitting your partner is bad. Okay, that’s all a bit flippant, but I suppose I’m frustrated because I don’t see what sets this one apart from the many other competent, readable novels on the market or what makes it especially prizeworthy.

Should it make the shortlist? I think you know my answer is no!

Alison’s Take

A story about two strangers and the way their lives unexpectedly intertwine, culminating in tragedy. Eniọ̀lá is the oldest son of a family struck by poverty when his history teacher father is laid off. Between worries about school fees and where their next meal is coming from, he apprentices at a local tailor shop. Wúràọ̀la is a physician in training, in a serious relationship with Kunlé, the son of an aspiring politician. Wúràọ̀la believes herself to be in deep love with Kunlé, but their relationship is volatile.

I…wanted to like this book. The writing was luminous, but everything else fell flat. There are no subtleties in the messages in this book, the pacing is inconsistent – a slow ponderous book with a lighting fast end – and ultimately I was confused about why it made the longlist. It’s not doing anything spectacular. It’s fine.

My grievances with it are small, and while kept me from truly enjoying it, it’s another fine book in a list of frankly confusing longlist choices.

AYỌ̀BÁMI ADÉBÁYỌ̀ was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Her debut novel, Stay with Me, won the 9mobile Prize for Literature, was shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction, the Wellcome Book Prize, and the Kwani? Manuscript Prize. It has been translated into twenty languages and the French translation was awarded the Prix Les Afriques. Longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and the International Dublin Literary Award, Stay with Me was a New York Times, Guardian, Chicago Tribune, and NPR Best Book of the Year.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Knopf (Feb. 7 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0525657649
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0525657644

Clementine Oberst is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in television studies. Born and raised in Toronto, she has lived in Montreal and Glasgow and now calls Hamilton home. When she isn't writing her dissertation, Clementine can be found knitting, trying to cultivate a green thumb, and playing with her cats. She loves nothing more than losing herself in a good book. You can connect with her on Instagram @clementinereads.

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.