Don’t look in the mirror
Fairy tales deal in ones, twos and threes, in lone heroines, haunting doubles, sets of wishes and curses: they are patternings, engines for producing extreme and ambiguous effects from simple elements. The title of Helen Oyeyemi’s new novel comes from the storybookish names of its three principal women, Boy, Snow and Bird – ‘a wicked stepmother and her daughters’, as Oyeyemi described them to an interviewer. Boy, Snow, Bird is Oyeyemi’s fifth novel. Each book has been an experiment: The Icarus Girl (2005), written while she was doing her A-levels, is about an eight-year-old prone to screaming tantrums and hiding in cupboards, whose seemingly imaginary Nigerian friend begins to take over in sinister, bullying fashion; The Opposite House (2007) makes bigger leaps in time, place and tone, cutting between a troubled young pregnant woman in London and a mythical ‘somewherehouse’ in Cuba, where her family once lived; White Is for Witching (2009) is a polyphonic haunted-house tale in which the house itself speaks and plots along with its inhabitants; Mr Fox (2011) is a fractured, ambitious novel in which the characters (a Bluebeard figure and his female antagonist) continually rewrite one another.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.