Writer: Helen Oyeyemi
Publishing House: Picador
Date of Publication: March 5th 2019
Rating: 2 stars
‘’The colour of my heart is black.’’
A mother tries to persuade everyone to try her gingerbread. A daughter tries to survive the harsh school environment and a reality that doesn’t seem to be ‘’real’’ at all. Fairy tales and magic find their way to the human soul.
Harriet is a gifted teacher raising her daughter, Perdita, alone, haunted by the traditions and the memories of her homeland. She comes from Druhastrana, a fictional country, in the borders of the Czech Republic, a small nation of magic and dark folklore. When Perdita puts her life in danger, Harriet attempts to ‘’save’’ her daughter by narrating her childhood and adolescence, a course where magic blends with teenage troubles.
‘’Suppose we’re not even character characters by figments of another character’s imagination.’’
The first part of the novel reads like a midsummer night’s fairy tale. There is a distinct Medieval atmosphere, haunting depictions of the inimitable Gothic atmosphere of the streets and cathedrals of Prague, references to beloved Whitby. There are hints of the Hansel and Gretel story, mentions of Lady Macbeth, Prokofiev, Jekyll and Hyde. There are plenty of Art and Literature references, beautifully inserted in the narration. There are talking dolls, lullabies, and magic wells. Oyeyemi also refers to the issue of cyber-bullying, the favourite activity of modern lowlife that lurks everywhere. Certain parts read like a labyrinth. You have to find your way out and this is fascinating when done right.
…and this is where I thought that another writer had taken over…
The story stalls when centered around Harriet’s youth. It becomes disjointed and confusing. The plethora of information in each chapter, the stream-of-consciousness style and the lack of paragraphs didn’t help. I was tired, my mind was wandering and my fingers were turning the pages fast. This writing style would have been ideal for short stories but it is always risky in a novel. In addition, it seemed to me that it lacked the quality of the prose and the whimsical tone of the First Part. The dialogue was bad, the themes were cheapened by indifferent execution. I failed to see the significance and I was disappointed…
Magical Realism, family drama, coming of age tale, Gothic Fiction, social commentary, Folklore. The novel wanted to be many things but, in my opinion, it didn’t succeed. Apart from the beautiful prose, I found nothing else to admire. I will read more of Oyeyemi’s work but I will keep my expectations low. What I read was by no means encouraging.