The Opposite House (3 stars)

Helen Oyeyemi

The Opposite House (Bloomsbury)


Helen Oyeyemi’s family left Nigeria when she was four and she draws on this experience and themes of cultural dislocation for her second novel. The Opposite House follows pregnant singer, Maja, as she tries to find ‘her Cuba’, a place she last saw at the age of five. Cuban mythology and music infuse quotidian London reality, haunting Maja and her mother, challenging the academic precision of her father. Maja’s confusion about her unplanned pregnancy and sense of identity are heightened by elements of magic realism.

The ‘somewhere house’, on the other side of the reality wall, has innumerable rooms, some ‘no more than fancies, sugar-cubed afterthoughts’ which could serve as a description of the book as a whole. At times the infrastructure can be unsatisfying: a case of too many rooms and not enough corridors. Still, the rush of Oyeyemi’s imagination eases the narrative flow and her imagery can be arrestingly original.

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