Three mini reviews from the 746

I am still playing a little but of catch up as we move towards the end of January. These are three books that I initially read as part of Naomi’s Diverse December project but that I didn’t find time to review before the New Year.

No 440: Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

I really loved this smart and playful novel by Helen Oyeyemi even when I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on! A novel about writing, creativity and inspiration, Mr Fox retells various myths (mainly Bluebeard, Fitcher’s Bird and Reynard the Fox) through the love triangle of writer St John Fox, his third wife Daphne and his imaginary muse Mary, who comes to life. St John Fox calls fiction ‘just a lot of games’ so he and Mary start to play them, with Mary reinventing her fictional self as countless characters, all determined to have a better end than their male creator has planned for them.

Lovers of metafiction, magic realism and all things fabulist will, like me, find the energetic imagination on display here a delight. Oyeyemi eschews a linear approach for atmosphere and style and has created a wondrous fairytale all her own.

Read on: iBooks, Number Read: 306, Number Remaining: 440

No 439: Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

In Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead mixes memoir and fiction as he recounts the coming-of-age summer of 15-year-old Benji Cooper in the family’s summer retreat of New York’s Sag Harbor in 1985. “According to the world, we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses,” he writes. Each chapter corresponds to a milestone in the life of a teenager – from first job to first kiss – as Benji comes to terms with how quickly life changes over the course of one summer.

Not a lot happens in Sag Harbor – there are hints that Benji’s father is mentally abusive towards his family – but the sense of a never-ending teenage summer is perfectly alluded to. Whitehead has a great ear for the tropes of popular culture and the book is at times very funny, but like Zone One, the only other of his books that I have read, the constant quips, wit and cultural references left me at a distance from the heart of the story.

Read on: iBook, Number Read: 307, Number Remaining: 439

No 438: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

In the introduction to The House on Mango Street, Cisneros describes the book, as something that can be read as a whole “to tell one big story…like beads in a necklace.” Structured as a series of subtle vignettes, it tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year-old Chicana girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, and of the neighbors that are part of her everyday life.

The book initially appears to wander casually from subject to subject—from an invalid aunt to a girl who is beaten by her father, and from wearing high heels for the first time to clashing with the nuns at school. But this apparent randomness disguises an artful exploration of themes of individual identity and communal loyalty, estrangement and loss, escape and return. In particular the book explores the lure of romance on the lives of women who have little to begin with and the lives they can end up trapped in by trying to escape the oppression of a family, only to replace it with the oppression of a husband. The House on Mango Street is a short, fleeting and poetic read. I enjoyed moments of it, but feel I may have got more out of it had I read it when I was younger.

Read on: iBook, Number Read: 308, Number Remaining: 438

The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

25 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Sag Harbour sounds very different from both Zone One, The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys – kudos to Whitehead for being such a versatile writer! I’ve often found his writing distancing, but that wasn’t the case with The Nickel Boys, his latest, which was hugely immediate and moving.

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  2. I’ve never read the House on Mango Street in English. We read many of the sections in various Spanish classes growing up, but I’ve never revisited it. Maybe I should, I only remember snippets of those sections at most.

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  3. Sag Harbor sounds good but I was at a festival years ago and Whitehead was less than friendly to bloggers and the like. I kind of lost interest in his writing after that. There were some strange twitter posts too to fans which were surprising to me. I know he’s quite popular and he has written so many books since then but I’ve not been able to read him since!

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    • Oh that’s very interesting! One of the downsides of my job is when writers come to read and they aren’t friendly at all. It can really change your opinion of them (most are lovely though!).

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  4. Good reviews. I enjoyed Mango Street (50-something when I read it) but it’s not for everyone. I will get Sag Harbor–I did not know of it and have devoured his most recent books. Reminds me of The Summer of 42 due to the beach house, Benjie, etc.

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  5. Hi Cathy – I didn’t know about Sag Harbor or Colson Whitehead’s earlier books. I’ve read The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys and thought they were both excellent. Thanks for these mini reviews!

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  6. I’ll skip the Helen Oyeyemi – I’ve tried two of her books and they’re just not for me. You’ve reminded me to check whether I have The Nickel Boys on my TBR. I thought I’d bought it late last year but haven’t seen it around. So did I just dream of buying it??

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    • Listen, I bought a book a few weeks ago, only to find that I already bought it last summer, so it could be worse! I’m keen to try The Nickel Boys – which seems like it might be more emotionally involving than this.

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  7. Oh, I love Mr. Fox! Well, I like foxes and fox metaphors and fox folktales of all kinds, so that’s what pulled me along to this book. So glad you liked it. 🙂 I have Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread on my TBR, your post inspired me to prioritize that!

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