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