Friday, September 30, 2011

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi — 336 pgs

In this surreal and inventive tale, an author goes to great lengths to avoid alienating his wife as he falls in love with the imaginary muse that haunts his mind and fires his creativity. Mr. Fox is an author struggling to find purchase in his fictional imaginings. For some reason, he seems to have a penchant for killing off his leading ladies in very violent and bloody ways, and though he’s expert at creating mischief in his fictional worlds, Mr. Fox is looking for some new inspiration. She arrives in the form of Mary Foxe, a woman who lives solely in Mr. Fox’s mind. She’s a woman who is at once creative and enigmatic, and as she engages Mr. Fox in ever more complicit games of creativity, she begins to show him that they can co-exist very happily in the world of fiction. But there’s a problem, for Mr. Fox is married to Daphne, a very high-strung and easily offended woman who’s not happy that she has to compete for her husband’s attentions with a figment of his imagination. But as Mr. Fox’s heart is being tugged in two different directions, the ephemeral Mary Foxe is becoming more and more real, much to the consternation of Daphne and the delight of Mr. Fox. Studded in between bits of this very unusual love triangle are the stories that Mr. Fox and Mary have been so busily creating, and as Mary becomes more and more physically tangible, these stories begin to morph as well, leaving the strange and bloody gore behind and becoming stories that capture the subtle and exquisite machinations of the heart. Both versatile and complex, Mr. Fox is a treasure of the imagination that captures its readers in its unusual emotional vortex and hold them there with deft precision and skill.

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.

18 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

It sounds bizarre, but then again I get so much pleasure out of books that take me by surprise and are doing something different than everyone else.

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like this might be a little too fantastical for me. I'm not sure it's for me.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This actually sounds like something I would like a lot. I would love to know which one he picked!

Anita said...

I've never even heard of this book, and it does sound bizarre, I'm not sure. You write such beautiful reviews, thank you!

TheBookGirl said...

The book within a book format doesn't always work for me -- sometimes I just get lost. I'm not sure what to think about this one, though my money is on the muse winning out over the wife :)

Geosi said...

Sounds good and have heard a lot about this author. Great.

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

This one sounds good. I like to go into a book knowing as little as possible. I like to be taken by surprise. Great review!

Vasilly said...

This sounds very original. I've heard wonderful things about Oyeyemi's writing but I don't know if this is the book to start with. Great review.

Suko said...

I love how you described your experience with this book. You jumped into it without preconceived expectations or knowledge about it--which is great (at least most of the time!).

Excellent review, Zibilee. I think I'd enjoy this author's writing very much, too.

Steph said...

I've never read anything by Oyeyemi (I know!), but when I read the blurb about this one I really wanted to get my hands on a copy... and I was SUPPOSED to review it for BookPage until another reviewer snatched it out from under my nose... As we saw from the state of my TBR piles, I really don't need to be out buying more books, so now I have no idea when I might get to read this!

Trisha said...

Every review I read of an Oyeyemi book makes me want to immediately read her! This one's definitely going on the wish list.

Aarti said...

Wow, this sounds REALLY bizarre. I think Oyeyemi is well-known for books like this, isn't she? Kind of pushing the boundaries of creepiness?

Jenners said...

I could see why this might be disorienting to read if you had no idea what was going on, but it sounds amazingly fun and delightful! Thank you for an excellent review that has me all exited and wishing I hadn't already spent my birthday gift certificate! I'm adding it to the wish list now.

Aths said...

Your teaser of the ending is more than enough to convince me to check this book out! A man in love with an imaginary and a real woman? Happens, but I would love to read about it! Fabulous review, Heather!

Jenny said...

Ah, I love Helen Oyeyemi. White Is for Witching is still my favorite of her books, but Mr. Fox had some gorgeous moments. I want to read it again now! Helen Oyeyemi is coming to New York later this month (yay), and I'm super excited to hear her talk about writing the book.

Jenny said...

This sounds so different for sure. I'm curious about the individual fables that are a part of the story though!

Nymeth said...

This sounds very unique! I've been meaning to read Helen Oyeyemi for ages - maybe this would be a good one to start with.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Oh, this sounds like something I would really like. Something different but well done and interesting. Beautiful review, Heather.

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