Things I’m Reading Thursday (ish?) #5

Obviously this whole Thursday thing is not working. Hopefully one day it WILL work, as ‘Things I Love Sunday’ doesn’t, somehow, have quite the same ring to it. Anyway, onward and upward…

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
OK, where better to start than with a rant, eh? Why oh WHY has this trend for whimsical, naive book covers come along, set up camp and refused to move on? I am really sick of being instantly put off a book because it has a cover that looks like it belongs on the front of something written for the female 8-12 age bracket. STOP IT, publishers! I mean, look at this cover. There are FAIRIES IN THE TREES. I mean it’s pretty, yes, but if you read the book, you’ll see how off-base the cover really is. Gah!
OK, there. Rant over. On to the book itself…
I’m seeing a pattern here, but as usual, I was not expecting to like this novel. The cover, as you may have already gathered, had a lot to do with it. But the person who wrote the back cover blurb should also be sacked (I think they were trying to mirror the book’s own stop-start, staccato narrative, but they just sounded a bit silly). Basically, I eventually gathered that it’s a modern take on the classic Gothic novel… and imagining a bastardization of all the Gothic books I’ve ever loved (why can people not just leave Wuthering Heights alone?!), I held my nose and prepared for horrors.
It’s actually not that bad. It’s not utterly fabulous and I probably won’t read it again, but it’s A Good Read. The story’s protagonist is supposedly the absent Lily — killed while undertaking aid work (I think; this is never made very clear) in Haiti. The four narrative ‘voices’ (promised by the blurb anyway — I only counted two, or possibly three, myself) are actually her children, twins Eliot and Miranda, her husband Luc, and their big creepy ghostly supernatural house/B&B, which not only talks but also eats people.
I say ’supposedly’ because I actually think the real protagonist is Miranda — her storyline is dominant, and I was far more interested in what she had to say than anything to do with her mother, who at times felt a bit like a cariacature… her absence allows Oyeyemi the freedom to be lazy in terms of depicting her, and you can sometimes feel that. Miranda on the other hand is very vivid, and fascinating — she suffers from pica, a rare eating disorder where the sufferer is compelled to eat inedible objects. I liked the way Oyeyemi used Miranda to strike a balance between traditional Gothic themes and contemporary female concerns. I also like the subversion of the Big House theme from Gothic literature — traditionally, the Gothic protagonist is trapped in a Big House which seems to be somehow alive and plotting against them. Here, the house really is alive, really is plotting against Miranda (and everyone else for that matter) — it’s also muscling in on telling the story, the ultimate unreliable narrator. That was the main thing I liked about this novel — on the surface, it was just a rather weird, dark little tale. Underneath, though, it was quietly really rather clever.
I was surprised to see people lining up to criticise this book on Amazon, though I guess I can see why people might not like it. It’s dressed up in a pretty cover and looks like a cosy, quirky little book. In fact, it’s bloody dark and more than a bit difficult. The narration is very staccato, fragmented and sometimes needlessly weird (single words hanging in the middle of the page for absolutely no reason, etc), and the ever-present-but-never-present Lily is actually more sacharine than intriguing. However, I’m assuming that the OMG-I’d-have-given-it-zero-stars-if-I-could brigade are missing the intertextuality and clever little nods to classic Gothic… because no matter what you think of the original/annoying (delete as appropriate) narration, you can’t get away from Oyeyemi’s skillful use of both.

Loads of Liz Lochhead
I’m also currently reading loads of Liz Lochhead poetry and Liz-Lochead-related theory for my PhD thesis. I have absolutely loved Lochhead since I first read her aged about fourteen — she never fails to inspire me and every time I pick up one of her books I notice something new about a certain phrase, stanza or poem that had never occurred to me before. Right now I am writing in detail about her highly intriguing poem ‘Almost Miss Scotland’, one of only a few Big Poems of hers I’d never seen until this recent foray. She’s so much fun to read and even more fun to write about… plus she’s one of only a few Famous Poets that I’d really like to ask out for a cup of tea and a chat. I bet Liz would be great craic! If you’ve never read any of her stuff or haven’t really paid much attention to her before now, go hunt her out. She’s brilliant — and like the Beatles, her ouvre offers something for everyone, so if you don’t like one collection, try the next one. They’re all refreshingly different!
If you’re already a fan of Liz, then head to the comments box and tell me this: what is your favourite poem of hers? You may end up mentioned in my thesis!

So what have YOU been reading this week?

(Photo by nuitfunebre)

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9 Responses to “Things I’m Reading Thursday (ish?) #5”

  1. Regina Says:

    Just finished Madness by Marya Hornbacher- could only read that a bit at a time… currently reading Weight by Jeanette Winterson and The Best American Erotic Poems from 1800 to the Present- now that’s a mouthful- hee hee…

  2. Crafty Green poet Says:

    Just finished Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree, probably his cheeriest novel. Just started Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan, a novel about a convict in Tasmania who was contracted/forced to paint fish illustrations.

  3. Gareth Says:

    Finished reading Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’, which I absolutely loved and was surprised to find quite funny; I definitely need to check out more of her poetry now methinks. Have moved onto ‘Kafka On The Shore’ by Haruki Murakami, which I’m not sure about yet; shall read ‘Lord Of The Flies’ when I’ve finished.

    As for poetry, I’m continuing to dip into my Ginsberg book, still going with ‘Nine Horses’ and I also read a brilliant poem by Rowena Knight in the current issue of pomegranate.

  4. David Says:

    Its all about Sharon Olds this week for me. I bought her selected poems “way back when” and hadn’t dipped into it…. but the recurring mentioning of her made me open the book and now i am hooked. The poems Monarchs, When and The Race are all out of this world. Love her.

  5. Rachel Fox Says:

    I love Liz Lochhead…my favourite is ‘Everybody’s Mother’ - has been for years now…especially the last line.

    I’m reading Mark Steel’s ‘Reasons to be cheerful’…makes me laugh a lot and is very interesting too about recent British history. Makes a change from ‘What is the what’ - that was more tears than laughs.


  6. charlotte g Says:

    i finished reading an introductory book to language change the other day. that was a right laugh.

    i’m just about to dive headlong into gulliver’s travels and aphra behn’s oroonoko, which seem more promising.

  7. Tea and Tomes Says:

    (Came here after seeing you on Twitter…)

    This week I’ve been reading Sarah Ash’s “Lord of Snow and Shadows”, Colin Spencer’s “Homosexuality in History” and Erin Hunter’s “Dawn”, depending on where I am and how thick the book is. (”Homosexuality in History” is too large a book in hardcover to take with me easily to work, for instance, where “Lord of Snow and Shadows” is paperback is just the perfect size to read on the bus.)

  8. Col Says:

    This last couple of weeks I’ve read the Collected poems of Ian Hamilton, (again) which gets better every time I read it.
    Also, Diviasdero by Michael Ondaatje. Which is beautifully written, though the three stories don’t seem to work together that well. One indeed seems to stop rather than end. Even though we are suggested to view from afar, (one of the meanings given for the title) it lacks a certain something.

  9. Chris Lindores Says:

    In the middle of term just now, so concentrating on uni books only at the moment…

    Halfway through Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald and enjoying it greatly; this and Waterland by Graham Swift are two of my favourites from recent studying.