When I began this book, I had no earthly idea what I was getting myself into. Often I like to go into a book having read little to nothing about it, figuring that this will enhance my pleasure and involvement in a story that’s completely new to me. While this usually works wonderfully, sometimes it backfires, as was the case with this book. As I dove in and read along, I realized I had no idea what was going on here! This was in part because the story opens with several short pieces of fiction that seem to share some of the same themes and characters, but not much else. Although it took me awhile to figure out what was happening, I didn’t dare put this book down due to Oyeyemi’s impressive and elastic way of setting her stage and creatively imbuing her tales with a strange and diverting life that I couldn’t ignore.
As the story progresses, the viewpoint shifts from exploring Mr. Fox’s fictional offerings (all starring a different version of his muse, Mary) to exploring the problems that Mr. Fox and Daphne are having keeping their love alive and fresh after the intrusion of a new imaginary paramour. Daphne is of course jealous, for Mary has been created as the perfect woman, and it seems to her that Mr. Fox would rather spend his time with his creative consort than with her. Though she realizes that it’s silly and ridiculous to be jealous of a woman who doesn’t even exist, she can’t help feeling rejected and discarded. But it’s Mr. Fox who has the greater dilemma, for he’s actually in love with both women and can’t decide between a love that lives only in his mind or a love that lives and breathes right next to him. Both women share a lot of the same qualities, which makes Mr. Fox’s situation and decisions even more precarious.
What I really loved about this book were the chapters that showcased the fictional stories written by Mr. Fox. These stories ranged the gamut from the sad to the wise to the violent, and in their creation Oyeyemi creates several very complex tales that veer between myth, fable and morality tale. I admit it took awhile to see exactly what she was doing, but when I discovered that this book wasn’t only a tale of a strange love story but an examination of the power and fluidity of fiction, I became very engaged and excited to see where it would lead. And I can’t say enough about the vision and originality of these stories. They were dark and powerful and wild, and they held an unforeseen energy that I couldn’t look away from. As the story of Mr. Fox and his two women becomes more clear, the stories running alongside lengthened and became more complex, like separate mosaics caught in the unwavering sunlight.
When Mr. Fox’s dilemma is finally solved, one woman is finally turned away and the other is left to gloat over her spoils. And even in this choosing, Oyeyemi surprised me, for events happened in a very clever way. At the last, we’re left with two competing short stories, one heartbreakingly stunning and one joyously flawless, proving to this reader that Oyeyemi is not only talented in the linear and organic ways of storytelling, but also in the figurative and indirect. This was a book that caught me completely off guard and held me captive with its odd style and brilliant execution. I would heartily recommend it to those looking for something that is both striking and original. A great read, highly recommended.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.