by Helen Oyeyemi
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Picador
High on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the loss of Lily, mother of twins Eliot and Miranda, and beloved wife of Luc. Miranda misses her with particular intensity. Their mazy, capricious house belonged to her mother’s ancestors, and to Miranda, newly attuned to spirits, newly hungry for chalk, it seems they have never left. Forcing apples to grow in winter, revealing and concealing secret floors, the house is fiercely possessive of young Miranda. Joining voices with her brother and her best friend Ore, it tells her story: haunting in every sense, and a spine-tingling tribute to the power of magic, myth and memory. Miri I conjure you . . .
I have heard only good things about Helen Oyeyemi and her works, but I didn’t get the chance to read any of her novels until now. Therefore when I got a copy of “White is for Witching” I was interested to see what attracted those praises.
When I opened “White is for Witching” and read the first page I was intrigued and captivated. I was intrigued by a beginning that is very much confusing and captivated by a language that is very much poetic. I cannot honestly say that I understood the prologue of the Helen Oyeyemi’s novel, it is cryptic and bizarre, but it did a wonderful job, making me jump to the next chapters in search of its decipher. Still, I have to admit that I’ve got a little help in passing that first paragraph and it was thanks to Helen Oyeyemi’s language. Throughout the novel I was attracted by the images crafted by Helen Oyeyemi with the help of words and more than once I wondered if she is not a witch herself, giving life to her phrases. This way I began to believe that the prologue is truly intended this way, because the rest of the novel will lift the confusion veil, with the epilogue making the best from the prologue.
Helen Oyeyemi explores issues of sexuality and racism in her story and manages to build interesting characters, with powerful personalities. But I have to admit that “White is for Witching” is a love and hate affair for me. I did love the language and the images that are born from words, but the story is a different matter. Most of the time the plot doesn’t seem to move and for more than half of its length it looks like it doesn’t have a goal to reach. I also have to admit that for this reason I almost stop reading the novel when I reached its half. But, from the second half Helen Oyeyemi introduces a new voice in the story and I hoped that from that point forward the plot would start to advance. The new voice throws a new light on the story, but it proved to move the plot only slightly in the end. It truly helped me finish the novel, but I am not exactly sure that I am fully satisfied with this fact.
I am not always looking for action driven stories, but at this moment I need more than just beautifully written novels. It is true that Helen Oyeyemi is a very talented writer and she deserves her praises, but for me “White is for Witching” worked only on one level and in the end left me feeling unsatisfied.