November 29th, 2011

fox and magpie

Book 128: Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

UK Cover
Book 128: Mr Fox.
Author: Helen Oyeyemi, 2011.
Genre: Magical Realism. Re-told Fairy Tale. Fables.
Other Details: Paperback. 280 pages. Unabridged Audio; 8 hours, 15 mins. Read by Carole Boyd.

"She's not real, honey, she's only an idea. I made her up." - St John Fox to Daphne Fox.

It is 1938 and the celebrated American novelist St John Fox is hard at work in his study until his long absent muse wanders in. Mary Foxe is beautiful, British and 100% imaginary. She is in a playfully combative mood, accusing him of being a villain, a serial killer. For St John Fox has a predilection for murdering the heroines of his tales and Mary has returned determined to change his ways. She challenges him to join her in a series of stories of their own devising. However, it isn't long before St John's wife, Daphne Fox, becomes suspicious of Miss Mary Foxe and a most unusual love triangle ensures.

US Cover
Framed by this interplay between Mr & Mrs Fox and Miss Foxe are a nine short stories that flit through time and place. Foxes naturally feature prominently in this exquisite novel and the cover art for the USA edition makes this clearer with its anthropomorphic foxes while the UK cover, with its elegant 1930s motif, is more ambivalent. I actually liked both for different reasons.

Oyeyemi draws on myth, fairytale and fable from various lands with special emphasis upon Bluebeard and his English equivalent, the were-fox Reynardine. Oyeyemi weaves these into the fabric of her central story and tales with the skill of a true storyteller. There are also themes linked to creativity and the relationship between artist and muse.

This was a book that I fell in love with from its first page and remained enchanted throughout. So much so that I was quite happy to revisit it immediately via its audio edition. The beautiful writing of the novel was further enhanced by Carole Boyd's rich voice and range of character voices. This is one I cannot recommend highly enough to those drawn to works of magical realism and this kind of tale of animal transformations and re-told faerie tales. This is the third of Oyeyemi's four novels I have read and each has been memorable though overall I found this the most accessible to date.

Endicott Studio Article on Bluebeard - Page 2 on Mr. Fox/Reynardine.

Helen Oyeyemi's 'Mr. Fox' page at Picador - includes links to her 'fox thoughts' and the opening chapter.
Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

Just before going to sleep last night, I finished reading an ebook called Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes by Shoba Narayan, a book about the author's childhood in Madras, and the foods that she makes and eats since. Nice read, and it clarifies a bit about one of the cultures of India.
book and cup

#116 O Pioneers! - Willa Cather (1913)

Willa Cather's second novel is abundant with interwoven themes. In one respect Cather bears witness to the early 20th-century Pioneers. The farmer taming the wild Northern States of America, battling with the elements and an unforgiving land to create a home, family and livelihood. On another level O Pioneers! is the story of Alexandra Bergson. Due to the death of her father she becomes the head of the household and spends her time between protecting her younger brother and out in the countryside that has become hers. Overshadowed somewhat by the more popular My Antonia this early work of Cather's is a much admired example of early 20th-century American fiction. O Pioneers! is a powerful testimony to love, the land and the pioneering spirit.

It is many years since I read any Willa Cather, and all I can remember of the two novels I did read is that I enjoyed them. This was a lovely novel to reacquaint myself with her work. The wild untamed landscape of the American west is brought to life, in Cather's vivid descriptions. In this difficult country the Bergson's battle to raise a family and farm the land. Along with the story of Alexandra's management of her family's lands, is woven two love stories, with very different outcomes. Alexandra's youngest brother Emil, is her hope for the future - but tragically things don't turn out as she expects when Emil finds himself drawn to Maria Shabata, a young married neighbour he knew briefly as a child. Maybe the most surprising element to the novel is Alexandra's reaction to Emil and Maria's fate, and what it might tell us about the times in which Cather was writing.