Author: Helen Oyeyemi, 2005.
Genre: Magical Realism. Contemporary. Africa.
Other Details: Paperback. 322 pages.
Jessamy Harrison is eight years old. Sensitive, whimsical, possessed of a powerful imagination, she spends hours writing, reading or simply hiding in the dark warmth of the airing cupboard. As the half-and-half child of an English father and a Nigerian mother, Jess just can't shake off the feeling of being alone wherever she goes, and other kids are wary of her terrified fits of screaming. When she is taken to her mother's family compound in Nigeria, she encounters Titiola, a ragged little girl her own age. It seems that at last Jess has found someone who will understand her. TillyTilly knows secrets both big and small. But as she shows Jess just how easy it is to hurt those around her, Jess begins to realise that she doesn't know who TillyTilly is at all. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.
I first read this novel in 2009 and was enchanted by it as evidenced by my initial review (2009 Book 97). So I was very pleased when I suggested it to our library reading group and members agreed that it seemed an interesting choice. On a second reading I was even more impressed by its beauty, strangeness and charm.
After recently reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah I felt that I was better able to appreciate The Icarus Girl's theme of race as experienced by a young woman of mixed racial heritage and the experience of encountering traditional African culture. The haunting - if that is what it was - by TillyTilly continued to be spine-chilling in its quiet menace. The kind of horror that plays on the primal fears of childhood.
The novel was well received by the reading group. Everyone was impressed by the youth of the author (she was 17 and still in school when it was written) and there was curiosity about her later work. Luckily the library had a few of these on the shelf and these were then checked out by various members. I felt pleased to have suggested this for the group as I feel she is an extraordinary writer and it felt good to introduce her to a wider audience locally.