The List, by British Journalist Yomi Adegoke, has steadily climbed the bestseller lists since its debut last summer. The novel garnered praise from prominent celebrity book clubs and continues to be selected as the read of the month. I had the opportunity to hear Adegoke discuss this novel during her sit down interview with Bernadine Evaristo at London’s Southbank Centre. Adegoke spoke about being inspired by the Me Too Movement and how, initially, she wanted to write a long piece on the role of social media in exposing abusers. More specifically, she wanted to understand the impact anonymous abuse allegations have on partners or wives of the accused. However, during Covid, the idea of turning the project into fiction appealed to Adegoke; she believed a novel would give her the freedom to explore the complexities of this difficult topic. Since its publication, The List, has sparked interest among many readers looking to discuss its hot button themes of social media justice, accountability, shaming, harassment, and mental health.
Well written, quick paced, and centering a black British couple, Adegoke introduces us to Ola and Michael, well-known social media influencers. Ola and Michael are avid users of social media, often intertwining their personal and professional milestones to gain a following. Their curated love story posts in particular have won over the internet. They are able to leverage their visibility to get better career opportunities and also free items for their wedding. Like many people, the fictional Ola and Michael use social media to build their brand. Ola has centered her brand around feminist issues, writing viral hashtags that promote social justice for women. On the other hand, Michael is using social media to find a well-paying job. We meet him at a point in his life when things seem to be falling into place. He has finally landed the job of his dreams at a reputable magazine, creating content to attract a black audience. His new position and his pending marriage reinforce Michael’s belief that he is finally maturing into adulthood.
As Michael and Ola toast to their upcoming nuptials, an anonymous list of alleged abusers gets posted on Twitter, and Michael is one of the men listed. Ola finds herself in a difficult situation, should she believe her fiancé or the women who have made the allegations. More importantly, Ola has built her brand around believing and supporting women. In light of the accusations, Ola gives Michael a month to find out who posted the claims or else the wedding is off. Narrated from alternating points of view, Adegoke, explores how each character grapples with the accusations as well as the emotional and professional fallout from such intense public scrutiny.
Although, The List has been praised by book clubs, it has also sparked controversy among readers. Some readers felt that the book reinforces the jaundiced view that jilted women make false accusations. Other readers felt that characters were under-developed and unlikable. Despite, these criticisms, which I found to be valid, The List is still a worthy read. It is a story that adds to the contemporary canon of amazing novels focusing on black love stories. A few of the novels that come to mind include Ordinary People by Diana Evans, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and In Dependence by Sarah Ladipo Manyika—these are novels filled with bold, complex, exquisite storytelling. They show us how love bends and twists as expectations are set and broken. In each of these novels, the reader can feel the agony and redemption of each character.
Overall, The List, is a timely documentation of this tool that can be manipulated to serve many needs. On one hand it can help victims get accountability yet social media can also bring about online harassment and performative outrage. Adegoke has written a novel that can help us discuss questions such as: Is social media the appropriate platform to addressing cases of abuse? Should all the accused be lumped together in one list? What are the mental health issues and professional ramifications ignited by anonymous lists? These are all thought provoking questions that will get any book club discussion buzzing.