White is for Witching

White is for Witching coverIf there is any disappointment associated with this book, it’s that I read it too late in the year to buy it for anyone for Christmas. Oyeyemi’s third novel is, like The Opposite House, a fierce, fluid and economical tale, more explicit about its fantastic content but still laced with sufficient uncertainties that after one quick read I don’t feel able to speak authoritatively about “what happened”. I tend more to Jane Shilling‘s view of the book than Carrie O’Grady‘s, however. So, to describe its three narrators: Eliot, whose twin Miranda is at the heart of the book, and who appears to be sincerely conscientious about her worsening health; Ore, who falls into a relationship with Miranda when the two of them meet in their first year at Cambridge, and comes to visit her at home during the Christmas vacation; and 29 Barton Road, the house where Eliot and Miranda and their father Luc live in Dover, whose voice is (mostly) the voice of Miranda’s mother, and grandmother, and great-grandmother (as Dan Hartland notes, the voice of history), speaking in chorus, fearful of and prejudiced towards anyone not of the family, anyone different. Their hold over Miranda only grows. A darkly self-aware ghost story, then, with an uncommon freshness that springs from its acuity of insight into character and circumstance; a book in which the scariest thing is what the fear of other people can become, and do.

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10 Responses to “White is for Witching”

  1. James Davis Nicoll Says:

    Am I right in thinking pretty every non-white character who encounters [spoiler] recognizes it for the menace it is and legs it as soon as they can? At first, I thought the author was going for a “non-whites are more in tune with the world around them than white people’ but then I rejected that model for one in which the family at the middle of it all is extremely thick.

  2. Niall Says:

    Thick why? Miranda is essentially possessed, and the ghosts/spirits don’t bother her brother or father because they’re on the approved list — there’s nothing for them to notice.

    To the best of my recollection it’s everyone who’s not white British who gets out of Dodge, not just everyone who’s not white.

  3. danhartland Says:

    To the best of my recollection it’s everyone who’s not white British who gets out of Dodge, not just everyone who’s not white.

    Ding! That’s it exactly – that trip down the high street is key to to the whole book, I think. Though I wouldn’t want to boil it down to solely to that sort haunting, since although as you say the book hedges its best in time-honoured literary style, it’s also sufficiently weird to demand an expansive reading. One of my reads of the year, actually.

  4. Richard Morgan Says:

    Must check this out. I was completely bowled over by The Icarus Girl, then completely mortified in my disappointment with The Opposite House – simply could not believe how bad it was. This sounds as if WIFW swings back to the strengths of TIG, so fingers crossed and off to Waterstones.

  5. James Davis Nicoll Says:

    They should be able to work out what’s going on around them from the indirect evidence (For example, if any of their guests as they were fleeing said “this is a place of evil! Flee at once as we are doing!” that would count. I don’t recall if they did, though).

    It wouldn’t particularly surprise me if the family had been bred over the generations to have particular blind spots. You don’t want the chickens noticing the ax.

  6. Niall Says:

    Dan: indeed. As you say, a very fertile book.

    Richard: I actually liked The Opposite House, though it was the first thing I read by Oyeyemi, and I would say this is better.

    James: what reason do they have to believe they’re in a story where that sort of thing isn’t just superstition, though?

  7. 2010 « Torque Control Says:

    [...] White is for Witching [...]

  8. The Books of 2009 « Torque Control Says:

    [...] White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi: a brilliant ghost story, but also (this is not said enough about Oyeyemi, I think) at times, brilliantly funny: serious enough to know when to be playful. [...]

  9. Review: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi « Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog Says:

    [...] Other reviews: A Striped Armchair | Coffee Stained Pages | Torque Control [...]

  10. Review: White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi « Jenny's Books Says:

    [...] Striped Armchair Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog Stuck in a Book Torque Control Serendipity Coffee Stained Pages Fantasy Book Critic The Indextrious [...]


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