Book Review - A Spell of Good Things

Chronic corruption and poor investment in health and education are responsible for many of Nigeria’s woes. Set in Osun state in the early 00s, Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s compelling second novel explores the country’s inequalities and contradictions.

A Spell of Good Things  interweaves the fates of two families and describes how political failings affect their lives and lead to personal tragedy. Yèyé, the matriarch of a well-off middle-class household, recognises that good fortune is precarious: “Life was war, a series of battles with the occasional spell of good things.” She hoards her gold jewellery and dreams of marrying her eldest daughter, Wúràolá, an exhausted resident doctor, to their friends’ son, Kúnlé.

From bitter experience, Yèyé knew that “real wealth was intergenerational” and “parentage would often matter more than your qualifications”. A patriarchal society obliges women to conform to familial expectations. However well educated they are, a good marriage is essential: “The husband’s house was the destination of all good girls when they became women, just as heaven was the destination of all good people when they died.” Representing a younger, more outspoken generation, Wúràolá’s feisty sister, Mótárá, counts the times she is reminded how to “behave in her marriage, in her husband’s house, towards her in-laws”.

Extreme poverty exists alongside obscene opulence. Adébáyò illustrates what happens when the two worlds collide. After their father loses his job as a teacher, 16-year-old Eniolá and his family are beset by hardship. Eniolá and his bright sister Bùsólá’s education is abruptly curtailed and their mother resorts to begging to pay their school fees. Both families recognise the importance of education, but only one has the means to fulfil their children’s academic aspirations. 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.

This immensely readable novel is a blistering indictment of the abuse of power (political and domestic) and the ubiquitous violence that can destroy lives overnight. 

Originally published by The Observer