It's been five years since the accident that killed the love of Feyi's life and she's almost a new person now. Her ride-or-die best friend, Joy, insists it's time for Feyi to ease back into the dating scene. Feyi isn't ready for anything serious, but a steamy encounter at a rooftop party cascades into a whirlwind summer she could have never imagined: a luxury trip to a tropical island, decadent meals in the glamorous home of a celebrity chef, and a major curator who wants to launch her art career. But their new relationship might be sabotaged before it has a chance by the overwhelming desire Feyi feels every time she locks eyes with the one person in the house who is most definitely off-limits—his father. This new life she asked for just got a lot more complicated, and Feyi must begin her search for real answers. Who is she ready to become? Can she release her past and honor her grief while still embracing her future?
Rousing, celebratory ... An unabashed ode to living with, and despite, pain and mortality. I love this book’s understanding of how tightly grief can tangle itself with elation, and how loss might elicit possession. It is also riotously, delightfully queer, featuring, hallelujah, so many characters who weren’t straight that I had trouble remembering if anyone even was heterosexual ... Emezi’s latest novel is a departure in genre and prose style from their previous work, and it could appeal especially to people who, living through an isolating pandemic that has accelerated loss, hunger for more joie de vivre.
Emezi extends their interest in genre fiction, which has so far encompassed young adult fantasy, speculative fiction and poetry, but revisits recurring themes such as love, family, faith and identity. This is romance, albeit with a large slice of grief and survivor’s guilt, so a happily-ever-after ending is expected — required, even. What distinguishes novels of this genre is the skill with which an author innovates within the confines of a predictable narrative arc. In this book, Emezi manages to adhere to romance conventions, while turning all sorts of expectations on their head ... With the encouragement of her best friend Joy — their friendship and its zinging, expletive-driven dialogue is one of the best things about the novel — Feyi is determined to thin out her grief ... While Feyi’s meditation on what it means to be alive is a major recurring theme throughout the novel, one that ultimately decides her hand, this repetitive preoccupation also makes the first third of the novel drag ... There are instances where Emezi resorts to clichéd metaphors ... But You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty...is more literary than most romance novels. Emezi has a poet’s facility for striking imagery in their descriptions of the paradisiacal island, which are full of sensory detail. And simple lines of text are charged with emotion ... It is the three-dimensional portrait of its protagonist, together with an unusual depiction of love and loss, that really anchors this novel.
The novel doesn’t shy away from heavier topics—loss and grief shape multiple characters, and homophobia has scarred Alim’s family—but Feyi’s love life is very much the core, and it allows her, and the reader, to revel in happiness when it comes. Healthy, complicated hunger is a recurring theme, with Emezi displaying a delicious skill at both teasing out its fulfillment and dealing with the messy interpersonal complications. The island getaway is a bit obviously a fantasy, but that doesn’t impede the novel’s unrepentant and joyful celebration of success, of personal beauty, and of sumptuous music, art, and food ... a strongly contemporary novel, leaning into modern slang and dialog, frequently referencing currently working artists, and with a refreshing and foundational concern for mental and emotional health ... Sometimes the emotional forthrightness of the novel struck me as a little unnatural: it’s a third-person narrative, and we’re often told Feyi’s exact feelings before it seems like she’s had time to process them. However, the overall effect is to keep the story pinned to someone working through big changes, not perfectly, but consciously ... Emezi’s character work is great, and the way the novel points towards happiness is an obvious strength, but the highly convenient elements of the romance take some getting used to. The smoothing away of all financial hurdles is one example ... These freedoms from material concerns allow us to focus on Feyi’s emotional and romantic journey (and on the luxurious setting) but I found the unrelenting wealth and privilege distracting at times. The servants who maintain these lavish lifestyles are nameless or invisible, and we really don’t get even a glimpse of life outside a very moneyed bubble—it’s not even clear which country Feyi is visiting. It all fits in innocently enough with the “billionaire romance” tropes, and the novel’s celebration of personal and material success, in the wake of loss and hardship, is one of its core strengths. But, coming from an author who has previously shown such skill at animating often-marginalized characters, this narrow focus on the lifestyles of the rich and famous feels limiting. And it’s mirrored in the way that the narration spends more time naming contemporary artists than it does describing anyone’s artwork: while Feyi herself feels intensely real, the world she moves in sometimes seems more surface than substance ... Those concerns aside, the areas that are fleshed out absolutely land: the soundtrack, the sensual focus on food and bodies, the way Feyi’s relationships develop ... Emezi is showing some really impressive range and versatility here, and knocks this romance out of the park.