By Helen Oyeyemi
Riverhead September 2011
From the library
St. John Fox is an acclaimed novelist who seems to have difficulty keeping his heroines alive at the end of his books. Mary Foxe is his muse, at least she is until she comes to life. She objects to his treatment of women in his writing. The two start a compelling game of story and words where they meet in different times and places. The battle is in good fun (mostly) until Fox’s wife Daphne enters into the game. How can Mr. Fox love the woman he is married to and the woman in his mind?
This book is different than anything I have read before and I loved it. I didn’t always understand what was happening, but I was happy to be invited for the ride. Instead of being frustrated by my lack of understanding, I think of it instead as one of those novels that you can go back to time and again to find new insights.
The novel seems to start off traditionally, until we break into the stories created by Fox and Mary. Each one is so engaging that I wished it was an entire novel itself. I don’t want to say that I was in a reading slump because that is not quite true. What is true is that this untraditional format reignited my love for stories. Oyeyemi is an incredibly gifted writer. She manages to balance so many variations of Mary and St. John and so many different styles of writing. Each one is nuanced and beautiful. I’m so happy I discovered this writer.
I love the little love notes that Oyeyemi sends to writers and readers. A character writes a love letter all over a bed’s sheets and pillows. Mary Foxe rejoices over the understanding relationship between a writer and their typewriter. In another story, she finds comfort in fairy tales. “Miss Foxe’s other passion was fairy tales. She loved the transformations in them. Everybody was in disguise, or on their way to becoming something else. And all was overcome by the end. Love could not prevail if the order of the tale didn’t wish it, and neither could hatred, nor grief, nor cunning. If you were the first of three siblings, then you were going to make a big mistake, and that was that. If you were the third sibling, you couldn’t fail. Here is the truth about everything , Miss Foxe would think…”
Mr. Fox is not your traditional novel. It is an examination of the people and situations that could be. The fun part is that the reader is never 100% sure what is real and what is story. Make sure you pick up this beautiful book. I know the year is young, but I think this might be a strong contender for one of my favorites of the year.