Helen Oyeyemi, White is for Witching, Pan McMillan, 2009.
I was grabbed from the first page. By the second page, I knew I would review it. At the third page, I was tweeting "Wow". By the fourth page I wasn't doing anything else but reading because I was too engrossed in the book.
Miranda and Eliot are two teenage twins, living in a house in Dorset with their parents. Their mother, a photographer, dies in Haiti of a gunshot wound while working there. Miranda, who suffers of the pica disorder, falls into curiouser and curiouser behaviour.
The writing grabbed me from the first page. The top of the page isn't a chapter title, it's a question which is then answered in turn by Eliot, Ore (who won't reappear until the second part) and the house itself. During all the novel, Oyeyemi plays with this, like a continuing conversation, jumping from one moment in time to another, from one point of view to the other, standing on a word that ends a sentence and begins another. The effect is one close to a stream of consciousness. It also heightens the strangeness, the weirdness, the peculiar. Some parts felt like modern prose poetry, as if Aloysius Bertrand had written Gaspard of the Night (1) after having read Guillaume Apollinaire and The Haunting of Hill House.
I'm not a horror reader. I'm perfectly fine with body horror (as long as there's no zombies) but creepiness freaks me. White is for witching is full of that, but in a very subtle way, more a susurrating whisper than a bump in the night, full of tense imagery and Gothic feel. So here I was, completely freaked out, but keeping on reading because I was both impressed with the writing and caught in the story.
The characters add to the mesmerizing effect. The family members make for a sad tribe of always almost-drowning people. The outsiders, Sade, the house keeper, and Ore, a young woman Miranda meets in the second part of the novel, are creating an interesting tension between their trying to help and how they are also falling into the trappings of caring for a family so cursed.
I can't believe it took me that long to come across Oyeyemi's works, don't make the same mistake! It is stylistically bold and creepy and it shouldn't be missed if you like a blend of fine literary writing and horror/fantasy.
Oyeyemi has also recently published an acclaimed collection of short stories, What is not yours is not yours and one of them has been shortlisted for the 2017 BFSA Award.
The author's website.
(1) If you've never read Gaspard of the Night, give it a try. It was translated in English in 2004 by D. Sidney-Fryer.
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