My purse is not happy with me. I felt like I could almost hear it shouting ‘if you own a book already why do you need to buy it AGAIN?’ I obviously ignored this voice as one would drown out the excuses given by somebody who claims to have no time to read, we all know that you make time to read. I had a proof copy of ‘What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours’ by Helen Oyeyemi and went into it completely blind. I’d read no reviews, there was no blurb on the back offering me clues as to what I was delving in to, instead a host of literary wonders singing its praises to be found there. Why am I buying another copy? Well, the published book itself is a thing of absolute beauty, bound with green thread, stitching on the spine, a thick and creamy jacket with a single rose twisting upwards while gold lettering welcomes you in. But. I am not a shallow woman, I will not fall for a book simply for its appearance, the finery it decks itself in. No, I need substance, something that moves me, makes me laugh, can transport me to other worlds when my day is grey, I don’t ask for much. This collection of short stories left my head and my heart spinning. I came out the other side a little dazed and confused at how I would move on to another book now, it would feel so…untrue.
Oyeyemi has done something sublime with this collection. Never on steady ground she made my imagination sing as one minute I thought I was based in a very real world when all of a sudden some magical breeze would spin me around. A lot of the book gives you a strong feeling of reading classic tales, one even beginning with ‘Once upon a time’. Feeling like I was reading a story from way back when she would suddenly surprise me with a reference that immediately cast the story in a new light as I realised we were in the here and now with our protagonist using wifi.
Each story differs wildy from the next, wholly original, yet they are threaded together by commen themes such as keys and what they can unlock, and characters who are centre stage one moment finding themselves a supporting role further on in the book.
Two firm favourites of mine had completely different tones. A young girl entering a puppeeering school to impress a first love had dark and fantastical twists that had me enchanted, where as a story featuring some young women setting up a ‘homely wench society’ during their time at Cambridge had me whooping with delight as lines were as sharp and observant as you’d find in a Muriel Spark. I found one story unsettling, in which a couple underwent a trial of a new experiment aiming to help those struggling with grief. This felt quite dystopian to me and although it didn’t give me the warm pleasure of the magical realism sweeping through other shorts, it has stuck with me and lingered on in my memory.
For once, you will be delighted to hear, I’m not going to endlessly type about the narratives in this collection as I firmly believe the pleasure is to be found in letting it unravel before you. For those who want their fiction neatly rounded up with all the answers provided on a plate at conclusion time, you are not going to get this here. Oyeyemi has masterfully written a collection that felt whole and complete yet still had me wanting more, life would be boring if the magician revealed how they performed their tricks, oui?!
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi £14.99 (Picador)