Secrets and Lies
It is difficult to know where to begin with a review of Helen Oyeyemi’s wonderful book, as the potential for spoilers is so ever present, in any description of what this book is about.
It is a book a little challenging to categorise, although the term ‘magic realism’ has been applied. Certainly, there are elements of fairy-tale and myth that wrap this around, consciously, with the central character of the 3 eponymous narrators even referring to herself as cast in the wicked step-mother in the Snow-White story. There are also references to poisonings and mirrors playfully or not playfully scattered throughout.
However, the magic realism elements are much less prevalent than usual in books which fall into this genre – so if magic realism is NOT your thing, please don’t use this as a criterion for avoiding Oyeyemi’s book
Set in Massachusetts in the 50s, a girl called Boy Novak runs away from her frightening rat-catcher father. A parent who exterminates for a living must already begin to snag at the edge of nightmare. Especially when blinded rats are kept in the cellar…………..Boy, as she makes her living, friendships and loves in Flax Hill, is the narrator for most of the story, and is surrounded by a strong cast of characters with clear and complex identities. The last quarter, roughly, of the book is given over to the voices of the next generation, Boy’s daughter and step-daughter.
Oyeyemi’s voice is strong, vibrant, intelligent, and her prose and images are beautiful and muscular. Her female characters in particular are protagonists, not passive princesses waiting for their fairy-tale princes to ride up and rescue them from mythical dragons. Although myths may be a starting point for this book, rest assured, the roots of Oyeyemi’s writing are absolutely in reality. She carefully – and absolutely believably, delivers her shocks and surprises.
Suffice it to say, identity is at the core of this book. Do any of us truly know who we are, who we were, and who we will be?
Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy. I’d hide myself away inside them, setting two mirrors up to face each other so that when I stood between them I was infinitely reflected in either direction. Many, many me’s
So it begins
I received this as an ARC from Amazon Vine UK
I would however urge USA readers or potential readers of this book to NOT read the publisher blurb on your side of the pond on Amazon – an own goal is scored by the product blurb crassly, very crassly, revealing spoilers. Stateside reviewers only reveal what the Stateside marketing has already goofed. The Amazon UK product blurb reveals all you might need to know to decide if you want to read the book, without wrecking anything, and allows you to make your own journey of discovery
Avoid the ‘read more’ option on Amazon USA’s product blurb – you have been warned!