You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

You Made A Fool of Death with Your Beauty is Akwaeke Emezi’s journey into the romance genre, as a woman looking for artistic success and happiness after tragedy falls for someone who makes things complicated. Feyi lives in New York with her best friend, Joy, and is maybe ready to try sex and dating again, after the death of her husband a few years previously. What starts as a slightly messy situation with two men who are friends, Milan and Nasir, turns into something much more dramatic, as Nasir invites Feyi to the island he grew up on, to stay with his dad and have her work at an art show there. But when Feyi is immediately drawn to Nasir’s father, Alim, everything is going to get a whole lot messier and Feyi has to evaluate what she really wants.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this book, which I wanted to read as I like a lot of Emezi’s other books, and was intrigued what they’d do with the genre. For me, it took a while to get going, and at the start I wasn’t sure what was going to happen or how it would stand out, as the opening scenes didn’t quite draw me in, other than Feyi and Joy’s friendship. However, once Feyi and Nasir travel to Nasir’s father’s house, the book changes, becoming deeply suffused in its setting and opening up to a whole range of emotions, particularly the grief and trauma that both Feyi and Alim are dealing with. This made it a lot more gripping to me, watching Feyi, often frustrating as a protagonist in a classic ‘why are you doing this’ way, try and navigate her situation, and the feelings she has for Nasir’s father.

It’s hard to describe or review the book without some spoilers about the main relationship. The romance isn’t a simple one, and will probably put a lot of people off the book (though this shouldn’t be all that surprising to people who’ve read The Death of Vivek Oji, though that wasn’t a romance), as it is between the protagonist and someone who seemed like her love interest’s father, though Feyi and Nasir are never actually officially together, and it becomes clear that she’s much less into him than his is her, even though she doesn’t tell him this soon enough. Both Feyi and Alim are bisexual and this is a highlight of the book, in the way that this impacts their connection in small ways. I don’t read that many romance novels, so I can’t really judge the book’s romance elements particularly well, though I liked that it is at the literary end of the genre, and does feel quite fiery and lingering.

One of my favourite characters was Joy and there wasn’t enough of her, particularly as the book wasn’t set in New York for the most part, and I would’ve liked to have seen more of her and Feyi’s friendship, especially as different forms of love and friendship are so important in the book. Possibly some of Joy was being held back, so I wonder if there might be sequel (the ending seemed to leave Joy with somewhat of a romantic cliffhanger).

This book really turned around for me, with a slow start and then becoming something quite layered and intriguing, focusing a lot on the characters’ emotions and the protagonist’s relationship to the world in general as much as the romance. It’ll probably divide people, either because of the relationship or the ways in which the book fits into either romance or literary fiction, but I found it surprising and vivid, whilst still being full of quite messy drama.