Romance novels are often dismissed as fluffy, inconsequential and uninspiring by discerning readers of quality literary fiction. The scepticism surrounding the genre, though rooted in intellectual snobbery, can be attributed to the fact that most romantic fiction tends to follow a predictable trajectory.

Replete with stereotypical manifestations of star-crossed lovers, forbidden liaisons and happy endings, such novels stand the danger of appearing formulaic and unrealistic. It is rare to find love stories that strip away the artifice and reveal some of the dark, distressing truths of a passionate romance. The romantic novels churned out in the West suffer from additional flaws as they are overly white-centric and overlook racial and ethnic diversity.

Akwaeke Emezi's You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty is certainly no antidote to the problems that plague the genre as a whole because, through their maiden attempt at writing romantic fiction, the Nigerian novelist appears to have recycled the tropes associated with the genre. Even so, it would be unfair to lump the book into the same category as a leisurely 'beach-read' that is tailor-made to be forgotten.

The key ingredient that elevates Emezi's novel from the glut of all-too-familiar love stories is its emphasis on the knotty issue of coping with grief. For context, Erich Segal's Oliver's Story followed a similar motif, albeit within the confines of a more testosterone-fuelled narrative.

An unusual romance novel by a Nigerian author offers a poignant study of love and coming to terms with grief

Emezi's canvas benefits from sensitivity and a stronger attention to detail. Much in the same way as the author's earlier novel The Death of Vivek Oji, the loss of a spouse emerges as the critical thrust of You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty. The only difference is that, in The Death of Vivek Oji, the protagonist's demise comes through as an opportunity for him to escape the injustices of the world. As a result, Vivek's death is viewed as yet another manifestation of the invisibility that had been imposed upon him in life.

For 29-year-old Feyi Adekola, the hapless protagonist of Emezi's new book, death takes on the shape of a spectre from which she is struggling to extricate herself. Unlike Vivek, Feyi hasn't been granted a much-needed release from the world, but has lost her husband and high school sweetheart Jonah. Five years after his death, the persistence of memory continues to hold...

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