Ayobami Adebayo’s “A Spell of Good Things” is our lives told in prose — Niran Adedokun

With A Spell of Good Things, Ayobami Adebayo surpasses herself and her debut, Stay With Me

For starters, the author goes beyond the largely domestic preoccupation of the former, into the more global multifaceted dilemma of Africa’s crawling giant, Nigeria, in this novel.

And in that choice, and the treatment of the same, Adebayo displays commendable maturity evident in the admirably deep understanding of her subjects, and outstanding characterisation, delivering an unmistakably impactful novel. 

Set in Ilesha, Osun State, just like her debut, A Spell of Good Things tells a compelling story of the devastation that poverty brings on people regardless of their social status. 

Between the wealthy Makinwa family and impoverished Oni’s, Adebayo unveils the inequalities of Nigerian society. The novel tells of how the rentier nature of the state sets the people, whether they are manifestly rich or deprived, on a rat-race for survival. That race is driven by the desperate desire to secure a permanent place in the elite fold of the wealthy, or escape the paralysing pangs of poverty, depending on which side of the divide the individual falls.

Although the Makinwas, whose newly qualified medical doctor daughter, Wuraola, the author pitches against the teenage Eniola Oni live in significant, almost offensive affluence, Yeye Makinwa’s perpetual fear of a reversal of fortunes, reveals the motivation of most people who plunder state resources. 

Mrs Makinwa, even as she prepares for the elaborate celebration of her 50th birthday, takes the reader through the deprivations of her past, the machinations that brought her to the current state, and her incurable dread of another bite at poverty. 

As the Yeye tries to prepare for the rainy day in her own little way, her husband, the Otunba, whose source of wealth is strung to the exploitation of the state, invests in the election of political aspirants as security for his business. 

This investment eventually transcends money when Wuraola’s engagement to Kunle, son of Professor Babajide Coker becomes the seal he needs to support the gubernatorial aspiration of his would-be in-law. 

The Makinwas, Cokers and their ilk signify the unrepentant and mindless plunder of Nigerians by the business and political elite. They also reflect the reality that pecuniary interests, rather than service, motivate many in the quests for political power. And with all its trappings of the Aristotelian tragedy, the resolution validates Yeye’s assertion that “life is war, a series of battles with occasional spells of good things.”

Then, juxtapose that with the sudden misfortune of an otherwise ambitious but contended Oni family. When the breadwinner suddenly becomes jobless due to the state’s inability to define its educational priorities, hope trickles out like water from a broken faucet, leaving a dehumanised and shamefaced man and a traumatised family. 

Superbly creative and ever supportive of her jobless teacher husband, Abosede devises all sorts of survival tactics, none of which saves the family from its socio-economic dilemma. Then, the inevitable happens; Eniola, the otherwise loving, pliable son suddenly grows up and falls into an anti-social group. That venture brings untold, perhaps undeserving consequences on the family. 

This family’s adversity reminds one of Arthur Miller’s tragedy of the common man theory. Eniola only desires an education and good livelihood for his family, but he unwittingly attracts the extreme opposite. This pursuit, which should not be the remit of a child, reflects the darkness of Nigeria’s soul and its lackadaisical disposition to the future of millions of children born in the country every year.

In measured, almost subdued but emphatic tones, Adebayo boldly returns a verdict of non-performance, if not wickedness on Nigeria’s political class. Poor funding of health and education, making merchandise out of politics and deliberately keeping the poor in penury while flaunting opulence are some of the daily Nigerian realities that this novel presents. And on this score, the author delivers an enviable depth that leaves the reader yearning for more. 

Unapologetically and effectively Nigerian in form and content, Adebayo’s other success with this book is also worthy of note. Between Eniola, Wuraola, and their families, every character’s speech, conduct, and disposition breathes onto the plot. This is not just about the main characters but tangential ones like the House of Representatives member, who is the harbinger of two of the most devastating initiatives in the novel. 

Despite Honourable Fesojaiye’s sparse appearance in the sequence, the author provides copious information to portray him as the personification of the deviousness of Nigeria’s merchant politicians. 

This book is a timely intervention that speaks creditably for African literature and its relentless intervention in rapacious conduct of its leaders. What more credence could one point to than the recently concluded Nigerian elections. A Spell of Good Things is an apt commentary on the prevailing brigandage.

Adedokun is a writer. Public Relations practitioner and lawyer


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