A More Diverse Universe – Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

This amazing reading event has been organized by several bloggers, including Aarti and Natasha.  What started as a simple suggestion has turned into something that I hope will have wide impact across the book blogging community, introducing readers to speculative fiction written by people of color.

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Riverhead Books, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my public library.  This is the first novel I have read by Helen Oyeyemi.  Oyeyemi is  a young British author whose parents moved to London from Nigeria in the late 1980’s.    She won the Somerset Maugham Award for her third novel, White is for Witching.

Mr Fox is made up of short stories, letters, vignettes and folktales based around the relationships between St John Fox, his wife Daphne and his imaginary (or is she really/) muse, Mary Foxe.  The main theme come from fairy tales that feature women who have been ordered by men to follow certain rules and who, after breaking these restrictions, are murdered and dismembered.  Think of  Bluebeard, The Robber Bridegroom or Joseph Jacob’s Mr. Fox.

Mr Fox starts out lightly, with banter and teasing between St John Fox and his imaginary muse, but eventually Mary becomes angry at his need to kill off the women in his novels.  Does this distance him from truly engaging in his relationships, with his wife and with the world?

Eventually S.J. and Mary agree to write different kinds of stories, ones which delve deeper into what make up true connections.  We never know who writes what, but here is where  Oyeyemi’s abilities as a writer begin to shine.  Whether is is telling a story of Mary’s time as a nanny and the role her charge is forced to play as she grows up, or the tale of a Yoruba woman who falls in love with an Englishman and then grows bored with him, eventually rebuilding the relationship and finding herself renewed,  I was enthralled.  There is often violence woven in these stories, violence against women,  their struggle to be free of it, and their struggle to create.  And foxes, there are many foxes.

She’d thought she didn’t have any stories, but in fact she had too many.

She put down things she didn’t know she knew.  She wrote about a girl who babysat herself while both her parents worked and worked for not enough pay.  The girl didn’t answer the door or the telephone because no one was meant to know she babysat herself, and besides, it might be the Home Office, and then they’d all be deported.  So that she would not be scared, she pretended she was a spy and wrote secret spy notes on pink paper.  She posted the spy notes out of the living room window, she sent them spinning down onto the heads of passersby, who picked them up and didn’t understand them.  They’d look up, but the girl has disappeared from the window – no one was supposed to know she was there.  From pages 106/107

All the time Daphne Fox is floating around the edges of the novel, filmy and a bit bubble-headed.  It is when she begins to believe S.J. is having an affair with Mary that she becomes solid and real, and begins to think of a different life.  And Mary Foxe becomes real for her, Daphne gives her form and, in doing so, gives a new form to her own life.

Mr Fox is not an easy read.  It has no true shape, there are parts that drift, that don’t seem to connect to the whole, but by struggling through I found it all makes sense.  After a time I would like to read it again and I am definitely going to read more of Helen Oyeyemi’s work.  I am so grateful to the organizers of this event for bringing me to this author, and allowing me this opportunity to be part of an important blogging event.

For a brilliant discussions on diversity in fantasy and speculative fiction and please go here and here, and make sure to visit other blogs on this tour.  You can find a list here.

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8 Comments

Filed under Books, Diverse Universe, Fantasy, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts

8 responses to “A More Diverse Universe – Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

  1. This book is intriguing. I’ll see if I come across it at some point. :) I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  2. I love stories about writing, and this one definitely sounds like my kind of thing, considering it’s also interested with gendered tropes in story.

  3. Ah, I love Helen Oyeyemi so much. The first time through Mr. Fox I was cranky and confused, and then I decided I would just go with it, and that made everything better. My favorite story was the one about the couple who loved fairy tales, and they decided to behead her? That was my favorite one. I need to reread.

  4. I read her White is for Witching, she’s such a great author to discover!

  5. aartichapati

    I really need to read Oyeyemi. I feel like her books are so different than what I would expect and I would be left feeling unsettled, which is pretty cool :-)

  6. I read this and struggled. I came to the end and still wasn’t sure what I had read. I don’t know if I’d be willing to read it again, but the writing itself was lovely. I just struggled so much with this story. Reading your review, I wondered if we read the same book. I missed tons of this!

    • Mr Fox was not an easy read, I definitely struggled with some sections. I have a deep love for folk and fairy tales from all over the world and think that helped.

  7. I also loved this book, though found it more difficult that her others — I really enjoy Oyeyemi’s writing and am glad to see so many people choosing her books for this reading event! I’ve already found at least six books I hadn’t heard of before that I now want to read very soon…it’s been great discovering all these titles and authors.

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