Category Archives: Oyeyemi Helen

May Retrospective

A summary of the books I read in May, with links to reviews:

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris – 3/5
The story of a soured friendship in the art world of Victorian Glasgow.  After a promising start, I’m afraid this was a bit of a damp squib.

The Grifters by Jim Thompson – 4/5
A career conman takes a beating that forces him to reassess his life.  This was a quick read but unexpectedly poignant.

The Voices by Susan Elderkin – 3.5/5
The spirits of the Australian outback try to make themselves heard in this wonderfully evocative piece of prose.  The writing is lively, poetic and original but the themes became a little too heavy-handed for my taste.

Rhumba by Elaine Proctor – 3.5/5
A sad and hopeful story about the bleak world of human trafficking, and the need to find somebody to love.  It has a curious sense of distance from reality and is night quite as powerful as it should be.

The Adventures of Vaclav the Magnificent & His Lovely Assistant Lena by Haley Tanner – 3.5/5
An inseparable friendship between an aspiring magician and his lovely assistant comes to an abrupt end when Lena disappears.  Strong characters drive this story of immigrants in America.

We have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – 4/5
Not a brooding, suspenseful or spooky gothic thriller; but it is a short book, and the writing is fun, dark, magical, enjoyable – a great evening’s read!

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi – 4/5
Stories within stories, slipping times and locations, where do memories and fantasies collide and divide?  A wonderfully original love story covering Bluebeard, escapism, storytelling and more.

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif – 4/5
Oops, was supposed to be saving this for my holiday reading… :S  An unexpectedly disturbing story that was not at all the lighthearted romp I expected.  An uncomfortable but thought-provoking read.

The Dream Room by Marcel Moring – 4/5
Re-read to refresh my memory.  Although a little cliched in structure, it is a quietly haunting story of wartime and beyond.

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale – 4/5
A wonderful narrative journey carried by great characterisation, and managing just the right balance between heart-wrenching historical fact and essential comic relief.

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi – 3/5
I had mixed feelings about this one.  A compelling soap opera of Greek island life; but I felt it lacked the necessary tension to be fully successful as a mystery.

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Just a few words on paper

Any man who reaches for a book when he thinks of you is a man that you should think about. 

from Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

DATE FINISHED: May 16th, 2012

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  Author St. John Fox stands accused of multiple murder – by his own muse and creation Mary Foxe. He also finds himself on the brink of divorce from his jealous wife, Daphne, who believes he is having an affair. Is St. John in love with Mary or Daphne? And does choosing one necessarily mean the end of the other? What’s a man to do?

THOUGHTS: Stories within stories, slipping times and locations, where do memories and fantasies collide and divide? If you prefer a linear narrative, this is not the book for you. Read more of this post

Just a few words on paper

“Tell the stories. Tell them to us.  We want to know all the ways you’re still like us, and all the ways you’ve changed. Talk to us. We’re from a different place and time…”

“I’m not lying to you,” she said, shaking her head. “I really can’t do it.”

“You can and you must,” they snapped. “Those stories belong to us. It doesn’t matter what language they’re in, or what they’re about; they belong to us. And we gave them to you without looking at them first. So now it’s time to see what we’ve done.” 

After a long moment, the harlequin returned to himself and began to speak reasonably.  They weren’t asking for very much, were they? he asked. Just a few words on paper, anything she liked, anything that came to mind, nothing that anyone else need ever read. It didn’t even have to be good.

He honestly expected her to believe that she could make a bad offering and her ancestors wouldn’t mind. 

from Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

DATE FINISHED: May 13th, 2012

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  18 year old Merricat (Mary Katherine) is derided by the villagers when she ventures out of the Blackwood family home for supplies. The scandal of a poisoning years earlier (of which her elder sister Constance was acquitted) hovers over the family home, where the two girls and their ailing Uncle Julian live, and Julian daily relives – or tries to remember – the day that changed their lives forever. When Constance invites their Cousin Charles into the family home, Merricat does everything within her powers to make him leave, from asking him outright, to storing up ‘magic’ words, to…much worse. But Charles is equally determined that Merricat must go. Who will win?

THOUGHTS:  Like I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, I’m certain I would have loved this book if I had first read it when I was 14.   Read more of this post

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

DATE FINISHED: September 2nd, 2011

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Twins Miranda and Eliot live in a house that is haunted by generations, a house with its own way of getting its own way.  Eliot seems immune to the ghosts they live with, but following the death of their mother, Miranda sees and hears more and more of them and her own existence becomes proportionally less and less.  Which family will claim her – the living or the dead?

THOUGHTS:  Oyeyemi’s prose style will not be to everyone’s taste, Read more of this post

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

DATE FINISHED: March 21st, 2011

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS: Twins Thomas and Dominick have always been opposites – Thomas sweet but weak, and Dominick strong but angry.  Together they grow-up with a mother who loves them but cannot stand up to the rages of their ex-military step-father Ray, against whom Dominick feels he alone carries the burden of protecting them.  When Thomas is diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19 and his mother dies of cancer, Dominick remains loyal to his familial duties but his feelings of anger and guilt have increasing impact on his own personal life.  Before his mother dies she hands Dominick the manuscript of his grandfather’s life story – but will it answer any of the questions which plague him?

THOUGHTS: Read more of this post