By Chukwuma Ajakah
From its inception in the famed Garden of Eden to present-day human society, marriage has remained a phenomenal subject of interest to humanity. Marriage is fraught with unpredictable twists and turns that have often rubbished the expectations of a lot of couples and the permutations of keen observers. This thought on the unpredictability of marriage is the subject matter of Tayo Emmanuel’s novel, Peace in the Abyss.
The plot of the novel revolves around Preye Banigo, a brilliant spinster whose ill luck with men seems to diminish her otherwise towering social status as a super-successful PR professional. Raised along with her two sisters, Erefa and Tonye, by a single parent, Mrs Miriam Banigo, after their father, Harry Banigo, absconded from home, Preye prays for a ‘made in heaven’ kind of marriage to avert a perpetuation of the social stigma that already trails her family for being a broken home.
The author presents the heroine’s tales of woes, using flashbacks to re-enact some sad events of her previous relationships such as the death of her fiancé, Kelvin Murphy, who had died of lymphoma before they could fix a wedding date, disappointing attempts at starting over with another man and the eventual regrettable marriage to Timi Coker.
Preye epitomises the character of a survivor. She recuperates from the psychological trauma of losing a dear one to set up the Roadrunners Foundation in his honour, raise funds for early diagnosis and treatment of victims of cancer. The foundation becomes an instant success, attracting the right sponsors and volunteers just like her other brainchild, Beta, a PR firm. Moreover, she is portrayed as a strong personality who provides inspiration to a lot of people within and outside her family. Her absentee father, Harry Banigo, returns to admit that Preye’s remarkable achievements had spurred him to reorganise himself.
The protagonist, Preye Banigo, is portrayed as an enigma whose successes resonate in everything she does except in her quest to fully conform to the conventional societal standard of getting married and having children. The author captures Preye’s disposition a few years after the death of Kelvin Murphy in the opening paragraph of Chapter One:
“A single thought was always uppermost in Preye Banigo’s mind: Marriage! Four decades of living will knock on her door in the not-so-distant future; her two younger sisters were already married; she was well settled in her business and her biological clock was ticking faster than any marriage proposal in the horizon.”
With her two younger sisters and friends already married, societal pressure weighs heavily on her as she realises that she is almost too old for marriage. In her haste to get married, Preye becomes easy prey to the antics of Timi Coker, a Roadrunners volunteer, whose foibles she fails to see until after the consummation of their marriage.
Contrary to her high hopes and expectations in marriage, fate deals the protagonist a devastating blow, punctuating her joy with calamitous relationships. Long after her dream of starting a new family while in her prime was shattered, Preye falls helplessly in love with the schemer.
Timi turns out to be the main antagonist to Preye as he tactically separates her from all that she loves, including a blossoming career and social acquaintances. Soon after their marriage, he whisks her off to a secluded setting away from loved ones and cajoles her to focus on her domestic responsibilities, asking: “Are you placing your professional ambition ahead of your family? That’s not going to work for this family…” (p. 88).
Topical socio-cultural issues embedded in the novel include: love, marriage, sibling rivalry, single parenthood, children upbringing, abdication of parental responsibilities, betrayal of trust, family unity, separation and divorce, widowhood and family life. The theme of betrayal of trust is realised through the character of Timi Coker who marries the unsuspecting Preye for selfish reasons.
The antagonist, Timi, the only son of Mr and Mrs Wale Coker, falls madly in love with Preye Banigo, an accomplished entrepreneur whose unpretentious dedication to her chosen cause ironically attracts him and irks him at the same time. Although the relationship leads to a marriage, it turns out to be a mirage as Timi schemes to remould Preye to fit into his personal ideals while she doggedly fights to retain her individuality.
Set in the metropolitan city of Lagos, Nigeria, Tayo Emmanuel’s novel portrays traditional, religious, liberal, and contemporary views about marriage and relationships in a suspense-filled atmosphere. The narration traverses the suburbs of Lagos such as Ojodu, Festac, Surulere, Omole, Satellite Town and Badagry.
Peace in the Abyss is a romantic novel of thirty-two chapters. The novel is crafted into 339 pages with the last two pages, containing a glossary of vernacular words, slang, and colloquial expressions. Its thematic preoccupation is typical of Tayo Emmanuel’s stories which predominantly anchor on the central theme of love. Tayo Emmanuel’s previous works include A Bouquet of Dilemma (2013), Blurry Lines (2020), and Echoes from the Past which has been adapted into a movie titled ‘Echoes’.
Exploring the theme of enduring friendship, the novel unveils Preye’s amiable personality and her uncanny ability to maintain harmonious relationships with the likes of Tobi, Lola, and Aisha, her friends from Regent University, many years after they have graduated from the university.
Peace in the Abyss features characters that depict the diverse categories of persons subtly sketched in the dedication which also aptly captures the story’s core theme of love and marriage: To those who love, even when it hurts/ To those who hurt, but don’t know they do/ To those who bleed, but have no cuts/ To those who stay hoping love conquers/ To those who leave, but return to fight/ To those who find the truth, only too late…
Narrated from the third-person perspective, Peace in the Abyss is characterised by a blend of multifarious narrative devices such as flashbacks, stream of consciousness, and suspense. The language is relatively simple, except for the infusion of a few vernacular words and colloquial expressions. However, the author graciously explains such difficult lexical items in the glossary.