November Book Review0
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi; 4.5 stars (out of 5); read in November 2015
I think this would get 5 stars from me if I knew more about folklore and the specific folktales and literary references she makes throughout. And almost undoubtedly will get 5 stars from me on my next reading, since I’ll have the benefit of understanding the confusing and strange way she opens the book (that I reread about 2/3 of the way through and again at the end), which put me off of the book at first this time around.
Once I got past the few few pages, I loved this. even though I know I missed some things, maybe even big things. Possibly I loved it in part because of this – it’s so well written, and I love knowing that there are more layers of a story to open to me each time I read it; but I’d only want to reread it because it’s so perfectly written. There are so many similarities thematically to one of my favorites, The Haunting of Hill House, but it’s also so different. The things that I love about this are largely also things that I loved in Hill House, most notably ideas of madness vs some evil manifestation, the (multiple, in this case) unreliable narrators, the house itself being a character. Other themes are totally different, as Oyeyemi talks about race and immigration and family of origin (a little). And I appreciated all of that too – some of it quite a bit. I want to take note of the little things next time – who Oyeyemi links in the text when she flows, in one sentence, from one narrator to another, and what she’s saying by doing that. Things like that – there are so many things like that to pick up on, that are like clues about who we can believe and trust, if anyone, and how it all relates to reality, if it does. I just love books that make you unsure of it all, the more you read. This is brilliantly done, and just so well written.
There’s a surprising amount to this book, and that’s with however much I missed in this reading. I’ll look forward to reading this one again and again.
Mostly I read this stunned and mesmerized, but here I laughed out loud: “…it descended into a semi-aggressive debate over her assertion that Thackeray’s Becky Sharp would easily beat Bronte’s Cathy in a fistfight. The only criticism she would have accepted was that she was giving patriarchy precedence over the female consciousness explored in the Gothic. But since that criticism wasn’t offered, she stood her ground.”
“Her grief was almost theoretical. It didn’t mean any less, but it was a different sort of grief from Miranda’s. It was the sort of grief you didn’t have to suppress because letting it out made it smaller instead of bigger. The sort of grief you could say something about because you instinctively understood that it could not continue, rigid inside your breathing apparatus like a metal stem. Miranda made a face at herself in the hallway mirror. Deep thoughts? Why didn’t she just draw a diagram of the different kinds of grief?”
“Sometimes our subconscious is so transparent it’s boring. I would have written that in my diary, but I’d stopped keeping one.”
“…and we kissed and fumbled with buttons and put hands and lips to bare skin until one or the other of us said, ‘I can’t,’ and if it was me I don’t know why because I wanted to.”