Helen Oyeyemi - White is for Witching (2 stars)

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Helen Oyeyemi - White is for Witching

(Picador)

GOTHIC DRAMA

There is clearly much promise in the 24-year-old fingertips of Helen Oyeyemi but the scorching hype she’s been on the end of to date has been a little excessive. Her tale of a Devon-based family torn apart by the mysterious loss of the matriarch and haunted by the ghosts of their heritage has enough drive to keep you ploughing through but the novel’s faults ultimately outweigh its pleasures.

Having various tellers dipping in and out is not a worry in itself, but when their tone is often identical, the reader can spend too much time trying to work out exactly who has been passed the narrative baton. And though she does have a tender turn of phrase on occasion, she really needs to ditch the likes of this: ‘She wasn’t angry. She was just being deontological’. Perhaps over-ambition is the main problem as White is for Witching is flat when it seeks to be profound and bamboozling when it tries to be haunting.

Comments

1. Nicolas Berry15 May 2009, 4:50pm Report

While I'm sure that many of the reviews you have written are well-considered, sound judgments based on an attentive reading of the material to hand, this is little short of a joke.

Quite apart from this novel being a highly menacing and theatrical instance of modern neo-gothic writing, and one of the most wrenching frustrated-rite-of-passage stories I have read in many years; quite apart from its searing devilish wit that anybody who has frequented the gothic canon will pick up upon; quite apart from its vivid descriptions and the formal beauty of its composition, and much else....

it is difficult to take a review seriously when you completely misplace its locale in your exposition - 'Devon-based family'?! The Silvers live in Kent, and the action of the house is in Dover. Was someone whispering in your ear 'Devon ... Devon' while you were reading it, at every mention of Kent, or Cambridge? Yes, Dover does share a 'd' and a 'v' with Devon, but this is inexcusable. Forgive my exercise.

Your scoffing at the line, 'She wasn’t angry. She was just being deontological’ also seems a bit off. I, myself, found this line one of many hilarious moments in which the neat mental formulae and mannered control of otherwise monstrous beings is being both cleverly lauded and satirised at once. The prim and particular of Victorian morality reduced by the bulldozing techne of modern expression, 'angry', to modern ethics, 'deontological'! Okay, I can see why that joke might be lost on some readers.

In short, a highly exasperating read (in the very best sense ... you will see at the end!). Oyeyemi is becoming a very fine novelist indeed.

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