Nov 22, 11
Read in November, 2011
The cast of characters: St. John Fox (his first name is St. John); his wife, Daphne Fox; the mysterious, impish Mary Foxe (yes, Foxe).
These three are more than just the characters, for they are also spinners: spiders weaving a web of tales of their own, weaving even themselves, within the grand story of themselves and their lives together.
The time: the age of fairy tales, the 1930s, the present. Our protagonists do not suffer the restrictions of time and place but live whenever and wherever the story takes them.
The plot: a love triangle, jealousy, the fuzzy border between reality and imagination, and a contest of storytelling. The contest is never explicitly referenced but only hinted at. The rules are never explained. But it it is clear that our protagonists are doing narrative battle--a battle in the name of love, a battle for the name of love, but the battle seems to be for something much more than love itself: it is a battle for domination. These characters are playing to win.
The battles are often bloody. This is the territory of Reynard, the fabled fox of European lore, and of Bluebeard. Beware your heads, ladies. But the men, the foxes, are not always safe themselves. They, too, suffer. They, too, die.
But all is not death. There is love sought and fought for sans violence. There are happy endings to go with the sad.
Ultimately, this is a tale of love not in all its glory but in all its hardness, its jealousy, its pettiness. And it is a love not only of lovers but of parents and children, and a love that spawns not only jealousy but even hate. And true to reality, love does not always win. And the endings are not always neat and tidy.
In this novel, this story of stories, Helen Oyeyemi demonstrates a charming talent for telling fascinating tales, a fantastic imagination, and a keen insight into human nature. She draws on a rich history of folklore to tell her own original story, which serves as a frame story for the many delightful short stories that themselves shed light on the overarching narrative.
Helen Oyeyemi is a very gifted writer, one of the best new young writers I have encountered in quite some time.