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?
Tags: advice for young writers, amazon, gothic, helen oyeyemi, intertextuality, liz lochhead, novels, poetry, prose, publishing, resources for young writers, Things I'm Reading Thursday, white is for witching, young poets