Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria in 1984, moved to London with her family at age four. She wrote her first novel while at school studying for her A-levels. For those of us from the US, that’s sort of like study for the SAT in order to be considered for entrance into a college or university. Also while still at school, she got a publishing deal and The Icarus Girl, a ghost story about an eight-year-old girl torn between her British and Nigerian identity, hit the shelves.
Her third novel, White is for Witching–described as having “roots in Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe”–was a Shirley Jackson Award Finalist and won a Somerset Maugham Award. Set in Dover off the South East coast of England, the Silver family house has been home to four generations of women, weaving threads that bind them cross time, space, and death. I loved the points of view in this book–the teenage Miranda’s, her twin brother Eliot’s, and yes…the house itself has it’s own voice.
Readers are divided about White is for Witching, because it is a bold work. Oyeyemi trusts the reader to be able to follow along without explaining every move, every shift she makes in this Gothic tale. It has subtlety, it has a bite that you might not feel until the welt raises on your skin hours later.
Like much of Oyeyemi’s work, White is for Witching is a commentary on beauty, horror, nationality, and race. Her novel Boy, Snow, Bird is an inventive take on the Snow White and Cinderella fairy tales. Her latest release is a collection of short stories, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, which is on my to-read list.
Since 2014 Oyeyemi has lived in Prague. Find out more about her work on her website.