Ever have a dream where the farther you go the farther you have to go?
Usually, I am not a fan of any literature that tries too hard, so reading Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, a collection of short stories, is something I usually would not pick up, or if I did, would get disgusted with quickly.
I think most books like this are too gimmicky and too contrived. The theme of the book is “locks and keys”, but it is more pronounced in some than in others. Some of the stories are mostly realistic fiction with perhaps a bit of surrealism (or magical realism, or science fiction) thrown in.
You also kind of get the feeling that you’re going down a rabbit hole…I often found myself losing track of characters as the plot of one story leads into a different story and a different story with different characters. You know, all the stuff that you ARE NOT supposed to do in a short story. But somehow, it works. And this is coming from a person with a very short fuse when it comes to this sort of thing. I think that too many people in this world get away with putting garbage out there just because too many other people are afraid to say it’s garbage. I mean, I was paying attention when they read me “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Not sure everyone was. But then again, I have been laughed at, more than once, so there you go.
In this collection, Oyeyemi somehow makes the reader feel both disoriented and entertained. She doesn’t even orient the stories in time and place: some are contemporary, some aren’t…or I think they aren’t until someone pulls out a smartphone. They are set in a variety of countries, and I found myself struggling to locate some of the letters she uses in my computer software.
Even the hardback volume of the book is slightly disorienting. Is is a bit undersized so it appears to be longer than it is…and gives readers the sense that they are reading faster than they are.
From beginning to end, I know she’s breaking the rules; I know the stories have to many characters and too many plotlines; yet somehow, I don’t care. I willingly go along.
Is this how people get started with drugs?
Oyeyemi’s use of language is one of the things that makes me not quite care if I know what’s going on, or not, when I read these stories. I can’t explain it without sounding fey, I’m afraid, but I want to say it’s as if she is holding, or using, the language loosely. Even the title (which is not capitalized): “what is not yours is not yours”: Simple words, soft sounds, lots of flow. The title makes me think, somehow. It’s also pretty fun to type, especially without the capitals: what is not yours is not yours.
This is hers.
From what is not yours is not yours: Extract from “Books and Roses”
Also by Helen Oyeyemi:
Stories To Look For
““sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea”
What is the difference between being “Internet famous” and really famous?
Are we really connected to the people we “know” though the Internet?
Is that real life?
Again, this is the kind of story I don’t usually like: too “current events”. When I try to describe it, it feels like the story should be trying too hard, but somehow it works for me.
Read an extract from “‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea” HERE.
“a brief history of the homely wench society”
I was looking forward to reading this story as I made my way through the entire book, just because I like the title. And it didn’t disappoint. This story doesn’t meander too much, although it is long. It is about a group of women at Cambridge who formed the “Homely Wench Society” in response to the Bettencourt Society’s tradition of inviting the most attractive women they could find to the one event they hold each year that includes women. But what you might expect to be a Feminist Manifesto isn’t so much.
I was worried I’d be disappointed by a story I had looked forward to, but I wasn’t.
“doniĉka and the st. martin’s day goose”
This one feels a bit like an ode to Angela Carter with a take on “Little Red Riding Hood” although I still don’t quite know what’s going. The story will make you see the grandmother in a different way. Maybe.
If you like this story, read Angela Carter’s classic collection, The Bloody Chamber.
More Books by Helen Oyeyemi:
Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel
Gingerbread: A Novel
As soon as you start reading the descriptions of these books, you will know which fairy tales Oyeyemi spins in each, but you don’t know where either is going to go.
White is for Witching
White is for Witching reminds me a bit of “The Fall of the House of Usher”, but I have no idea whether the allusion is deliberate or not.