Book Review: You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty – Awaeke Emezi


Posted 1 month ago in Book Review

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You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty

Awaeke Emezi

Faber

“Though it has the germ of something wonderful in its prose and premise, by its conclusion You Made a Fool is rushed and overwrought.”

Though it has the germ of something wonderful in its prose and premise, by its conclusion You Made a Fool is rushed and overwrought. After a brilliant opening and strong first half, Emezi’s thoughtful modern romance ceases to be propelled by the organic development of its well-drawn characters. Out of nowhere, the plot lurches out of the subtext and drags the cast along tired emotional beats, through increasingly outrageous set-pieces.

We follow Feyi, a beautiful 29-year-old artist, who has fled to New York hoping to be consumed by the city which so greedily gobbles up the lives of others. The novel opens on our heroine having sex for the first time since the death of her husband in a car accident five years prior. Though Feyi begins sleeping with the hookup, Milan, she knows she cannot open herself up emotionally to him or anyone without feeling like a traitor to her husband. Frozen in the agony, if not in time, Feyi can only live by pretending to be a stranger, someone other than herself. That is, until she meets Milan’s friend, Nasir. Emezi follows their slow-burn courtship through the first half, producing a fairly conventional, albeit well-written, romance. Emezi gives us what we want: they bisect Feyi’s sunny New York like a dollhouse, showing us its gleaming interiors and dazzling colours, shuffling its beautiful cast from scene to picturesque scene. As Feyi and Nasir grow closer, we swoon along them.

Amidst the romance, Emezi tries hard to say something substantive about the way loss scourges emotions and re-orders time. In her frequent narrations of Feyi’s emotional foreclosure, which meditate on the idea of her ‘timeline,’ Emezi is labouring to tell us that grief, and the attempt to live with and beyond it, is what the novel is really about. While romance initially provides the vehicle for Emezi to develop their treatment of these themes, the novel’s priorities become clear as the action shifts to an island paradise and the romantic conflict is introduced. Emezi’s tendency to ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ comes to the fore. No sooner is the third point of the inevitable love-triangle introduced than we are told he’s irresistible – please swoon now. Thus, Feyi’s romantic struggle feels unearned, and her ultimate decision uninteresting.

By allowing the plot to race forward and drag Feyi along with it, Emezi neglects the organic development of the novel’s ostensible themes – grief and moving on. In the final chapters, Emezi’s tendency to linger on surfaces gets in the way of the emotional insight her prose-style announces: ‘So, madness and mess. Something that took up space. Something that felt furiously alive because survival could be so very, very angry.’ Sounds pretty good – but this syntax and register is so oft-repeated, and so ancillary to the action of the characters, that it feels like platitude rather than revelation. The problem here isn’t a fundamental sentimentality or melodrama – emotionality can coexist with thematic depth. Emezi fails to flesh out either Feyi’s grief or Feyi herself, or to keep these developments abreast with the plot.

Words: Pádraig Nolan

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