Helen Oyeyemi - Boy, Snow, Bird (5 stars)

Helen Oyeyemi - Boy, Snow, Bird

Powerful intertwining of fairytale and reality is a bewitching book of beautiful and precise


Named as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists in 2013, Helen Oyeyemi confidently justifies that accolade with her fifth novel, a powerful intertwining of fairytale and reality. Like all the best fairytales, its deceptively simple surface slowly shifts to reveal dark and troubling truths underneath.

The story is much better discovered upon reading than in a briefly summarised description, but it is not giving too much away to say that the book’s title names its three main characters, or that the story begins in 1930s Manhattan with Boy, a 20-year-old girl, running away from her abusive father to seek a new life.

Boy, Snow and Bird are brilliant creations, and through these three appealing and mysterious characters Oyeyemi examines female identity in all its delightful and terrifying complexity. Fairytale tropes abound – an evil stepmother, a magic mirror – and are explored in this story of how mothers, daughters and sisters shape each other, while the tricksy nature of mirrors is a recurring theme that leads to questions of self-image, self-deception and what it takes to be ‘the fairest of them all’.

Oyeyemi is a master of language; her writing is beautiful and precise, and her ability to hide deep meaning in unassuming words is breathtaking. This is perhaps most true of the book’s title, which holds the key to all of the story’s surprises. This is a bewitching book, in every way.

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