Review: White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi

In White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi has done the thing I was afraid she wasn’t going to manage, which is to become EVEN BETTER YET in her third book than she was in her second.  She can’t keep this up much longer, right?  I mean she has to plateau at some point, right?  Helen Oyeyemi!  What will you do to stagger and amaze us next?

White is for Witching is about a set of twins, Eliot and Miranda, who live in a haunted house.  Miranda has pica, and the house hates foreigners.  As the book goes on, we come to realize that there are people in the house apart from those that its inhabitants can see, people that the women of Miranda’s family have sometimes been able to perceive.  Miranda and Eliot go off to Cambridge and South Africa (maybe), respectively, and still they are bound to each other and to the house.  Spookiness ensues.

Simon’s review of this book suggested Helen Oyeyemi might have got too experimental for her boots with this one, which filled me full of fears that she had given up on interesting plots/characters in favor of using too many words in unorganized word salad sentences.  In fact there’s just a hella lot of ambiguity and uncertainty about the sort of evil the house is wreaking, and what all the characters’ true motives are.  Which is the sort of ambiguity I can see why someone would mind it, but I do not, when the book is about a sinister haunted house.  A haunted house is scarier if you can’t lay the ghost.

Another reason I liked it (but someone else might not) is that there are multiple narrators, in varying degrees of reliability (one of them is the house.  You really can’t rely on the house to tell the truth).  I love multiple narrators.  I have done ever since I was in fourth grade and my mother bought me Caroline B. Cooney’s Among Friends, and I thought it was the coolest idea ever and swiftly went off and wrote a book my own self with multiple narrators.  One of them was a unicorn, and one was a talking book.  And at the end?  The army of men and the army of women all decided to get married, so they didn’t have to have a war after all.  Lesson learned: It is rather lame to pretend like you are going to have to have a Major Event (like a war) at the end of a book, and then for some silly reason not have to have the Major Event after all.  [Thinly veiled subtext: I learned this lesson before I left elementary school, while Stephenie Meyer never learned it at all.]

That unnecessary slighting reference to Stephenie Meyer brought to you by: Embarrassment at my nine-year-old self’s idea of what constituted a good story.

Anyway, multiple narrators.  I am a fan.  If you are not, this may not be the book for you.  Ditto for if you need to be perfectly clear on the spooky haunty happenings and what’s real and what’s not.  Otherwise, hit this up immediately.  It is damn good.  I’m only sad that Helen Oyeyemi has no further books for me to read right now.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
Stuck in a Book
Torque Control
Serendipity
Coffee Stained Pages
Fantasy Book Critic
The Indextrious Reader

Tell me if I missed yours!

  • farmlanebooks

    I haven’t read anything by her. I think I’m going to have to add her to the wishlist after reading this great review. It sounds fantastic!

    • I hope you can get White is for Witching; it’s the best of hers by a good margin, I think. I want to buy this one for sure. I’m going to see if I can get my sister to bring me back a British copy, though, because the British cover is way better than the American one.

  • Yay! I knew you’d like it. 😀

    (That South Africa (maybe) thing was EVEN CREEPIER than the house that ate people! With the house at least you know its intentions towards you. With Eliot? Not really.)

    • Oh my God, when the house said that about Eliot, I got chills. “Africa? Really?” Brrrrr. Incredibly effective.

      • Eva

        I’m TOTALLY with you guys at the creepiness of “Africa? Really?”

        • It made me sad because I wanted to like Eliot. 🙁

  • I love multiple narrators. The first book I ever remember reading like that was As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and it totally changed the way I thought about writing. I can’t wait to get to this one!

  • I’ve been on the fence about this book for ages, but you have sold me. I’m definitely a fan of multiple narrators and of that kind of ambiguity.

  • anna

    I defend your nine year old self’s stories, and thought they were quite good, while going into no specifics here because I know you wouldn’t like that.

  • I love multiple narrators. Well, when it’s done well. You and Eva really have me wanting to read Oyeyemi- she sounds so creepy, though, so… I’ll read her in the summer, maybe 😉 In sunlight. With lemonade.

    • Hahaha, no, I read White is for Witching before I went to bed, and didn’t have nightmares at all. It’s creepy, but not nightmare creepy (unless you live in a large creaky house, which I do not).

  • I read The Icarus Girl years ago (and loved it) and I have this one on my nook. I’m trying to save it for when I travel somewhere.

    • This would be a great traveling book! Take your mind right off your surroundings. I hope you enjoy it!

  • I’m a big fan of multiple narrators so I may need to read this one. Also, I think we need to see some of the book you wrote. I’m thinking the unicorn would be one of those unreliable narrators.

    • I actually went through my old documents and found it, and I am so ashamed of it. Why couldn’t little me write better? 😛 The unicorn was actually very reliable, because she was radiantly beautiful and telepathically connected to the protagonist. The talking book was on the unreliable side, because she was so snotty. (I’m so embarrassed talking about this, haha!)

      • I would so read that. Have you done the Oz books? The one with “General Jinjur’s Army of Revolt”? Where the girl soldiers have the four colors of the kingdoms of Oz in each of the panels of their four-gored skirts, and jab at enemies with their knitting needles?

        • I read them when I was little. Not recently. I think I was going through them around the time that I was writing this story, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oz books were an influence.

  • Reading your review, it sounds exactly the sort of book I’d love – I love ambiguity, I love multiple narrators, I love Gothic – but sadly I just hadn’t the remotest idea what was going on in this book, so I couldn’t appreciate those elements! I must have read it too fast, or at the wrong time, or something. It definitely tipped from ambiguity into wuh? for me… but so glad that you enjoyed it.

    • It’s such a shame you didn’t like it! I know there were definitely some parts of the book that I didn’t understand, but the writing was gorgeous enough to skate me past it. 🙂

  • I’ve not read anything by this author, but I bought this book after reading Eva’s review. Your review has pushed me into moving this book up on my TBR pile! 🙂

    • I hope you enjoy it! It’s really fantastic. I want to buy it myself, but I really want the British copy. I’m so picky!

  • Ok, I have to try to get hold of a copy of this one. I am sold.

    • I hope you enjoy it! It really is a fantastic book.

  • Dang it, Jenny! I was all set not to add any books to my TBR list in my blog-hopping today and ALMOST made it, til I read this review. 😉

    • Well, I would apologize, except that it’s a really good addition to your TBR list! Plus it’s full of plot and character, but it’s not a long book at all, very easy to clear it off the list again in only a few hours.

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  • I’m dropping by to see if you did end up reviewing this (I’m ridiculously behind in clearing my Google Reader); I started reading it last night and am seriously loving it for all the reasons you have mentioned above.

    • I’m glad you’re liking it! Isn’t it creeeeeepy? Looking forward to your review. 🙂

  • Fantastic book!

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