Awaeke Emezi’s latest novel is a romance with a difference. Slowly unfolding the narrative with their characteristic poetic prose, Emezi gives us a story of love surviving grief, life after death, and sex by the sea.
In this genre-blurring, contemporary novel, Emezi subverts typical attitudes towards love and grief. You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty (Faber) immediately rejects the simplicity of conventional summer romances by entangling it with grief. We meet Feyi, the twenty-nine-year-old visual artist, five years after the death of her husband as she flirts with the possibility of love in the wake of loss.
Since his death, Feyi has barely been able to hang onto life and has avoided romance. The novel begins as Feyi thrusts herself into everything she has been terrified of since losing her husband. She ends her celibacy with the help of Milan, a stranger she meets at a rooftop party. She has sex with him for a few months, then puts an end to things before finding herself in the middle of an ambiguous relationship with Nasir, Milan’s friend.
Feyi and Nasir decide to take things slow, and begin a friendship. Nasir puts Feyi in contact with a famous and successful curator who wants to feature Feyi’s work in an upcoming exhibition. Nasir and Feyi swap New York for a luscious Caribbean island where they stay with Nasir’s father, Alim. Alim is a distinguished chef who is also dealing with his own demons of grief. As Feyi embarks on her unexpected journey of healing, Emezi delivers us the most raw and unapologetic prose. I really enjoyed their writing style, especially as I don’t usually read romance novels, but the manner in which Emezi is able to challenge modes of representation, in a genre-bending novel where they merge the philosophical without being flowery and maintain deep, emotional characters without being suffocatingly sentimental, makes for a beautiful read.
Alim and Feyi recognise each others’ grief, and the constant push and pull between their speech and body language proves to the reader there is something romantic lying beneath the surface. With the possibility of romance on the horizon, they are both incredibly aware of how this could impact Nasir. However, through Emezi’s poetic prose and her arresting imagery, I began to understand how significant this relationship with Alim was for Feyi; she was beginning to find joy, beginning to understand that it could be okay to love amidst the chaos of grief, because even though “all her timelines stretched back to a dark road covered in glass. It didn’t matter. She was alive, like her therapist had taught her, and it was okay to live”
Feyi and Alim develop a seismic, undeniable attraction to one another. The bond they create over widowhood, art, food and their bisexuality is not something that can be broken by the threat of Nasir – Alim’s son – finding out. Halfway through the novel, Emezi picks up the pace and tightens the tensions; as Feyi and Alim fight against a mutual desire, the novel’s language changes too, becoming more literary than one would expect from most romance novels. Simple lines become charged with emotion, revealing the poetic side to Emezi’s craft.
As a reader, I really enjoyed the multidimensional portrayal of Feyi, a dark skinned, sex-positive Black woman wrapped up in a complicated love triangle. The descriptions of Feyi’s appearance and references to Black diaspora artists are not something we often read about. Emezi’s disruption of traditional expectations of what Black women should be in possession of brings something different to the novel: Feyi finds herself in the middle of a luxurious Caribbean island, a famous chef cooking for her and her artistic career flourishing. Emezi creates the space for Feyi to grow, to make mistakes in full force, to make questionable decisions but, best of all, to prioritise her own happiness.
You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty is a shameless ode to love, to surviving a world of pain and grief.
Awaeke Emezi’s You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty is published by Faber and is available to purchase online and in all good bookshops now.
Feature image of Awaeke Emezi courtesy of Faber Books