r/fantasy Bingo 2017 · Review

Review | White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

whiteisforTitle: White is for Witching

Author: Helen Oyeyemi

Published by: Nan A. Talese (Knopf Doubleday)

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Where I got the book: Public library

Content Warning: Eating disorder


“As a child, Miranda Silver developed pica, a rare eating disorder that causes its victims to consume nonedible substances. The death of her mother when Miranda is sixteen exacerbates her condition; nothing, however, satisfies a strange hunger passed down through the women in her family. And then there’s the family house in Dover, England, converted to a bed-and-breakfast by Miranda’s father. Dover has long been known for its hostility toward outsiders. But the Silver House manifests a more conscious malice toward strangers, dispatching those visitors it despises. Enraged by the constant stream of foreign staff and guests, the house finally unleashes its most destructive power.” (Source)

I enjoyed this book but unfortunately I think I’m done with Helen Oyeyemi’s work. This is the fourth book of hers I’ve read and I never seem to get that into them. Boy, Snow, Bird had a really transphobic ending. Mr. Fox was ok but felt like it didn’t go anywhere. And What is Not Yours is Not Yours just didn’t grab me.

Starting with what I enjoyed, Oyeyemi’s narrative and prose style works really well in this book. She’s got a really light yet confusing fairytale narrative voice that really shines in White is for Witching as it’s a sort of modern fairy tale about a family of women and a haunted house. Stories overlap as history becomes ghosts, ghosts become real, and the unexplainable happens in the shadowed corners of the Silver household. Things are often left unexplained or for the reader to muddle through, but this is one of those books where that’s ok. Fairy tales and legends aren’t historically neatly defined stories. They bleed through the cracks, echoing between memory and event until it’s impossible to tell between the real and the unreal. Oyeyemi’s writing beautifully captures this type of feeling.

Sadly this book also suffers from a narrative flaw I’ve also found in Oyeyemi’s other works, where it gets really confusing to figure out who is which narrator. In part I think this is due to Oyeyemi’s meandering writing style in which she is constantly changing between first, second and third person point of view, sometimes for the same characters. And with all the point of view and scene switching it’s really hard to grab a hold of the narrative. I’ve read some books that do this type of writing really well but in the case of White is for Witching it just left me confused as I muddled through the book. Beautiful prose alone isn’t enough to save a book if I can’t figure out who is talking.

That said though, this is the book by Oyeyemi I’ve enjoyed the most and recommend picking up a copy of White is for Witching if you’re interested in her work or are looking for a magical realism, fairy tale type story with queer women.


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