08 April 2010

White is For Witching (Helen Oyeyemi)

You know those people in life who are unlike everyone else? They make you catch your breathe and then keep catching it, drawing in short little breaths as you remember something they did or said. You can't breathe normally again until the memory has played out. Afterwards you are light-headed, which exacerbates the intense happiness or sadness that inevitably crashes over you. The sadness occurs far more often but it doesn't matter, because those brief waves of joy are far heavier on the scale than anything else.

We don't meet these people very often. There is not one for every person. In all likelihood, they have this effect on many people, so you are only one in a crowd, virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the swooning masses. On the occasions when you are alone you find it hard to speak, to create a fascination around yourself. You want to voice everything you've ever thought to them but are crippled with the suspicion that nothing you say could ever be interesting or unique enough.

This feeling of wonderment can also happen with books and music. For me it is the books. When I was younger and my mother asked me to do something she would always have to touch me when asking, or write it down for me to read. Sounds by themselves don't seem to stick properly in my brain. But I understand for other people that music is by far the greater emotional stimulant.

Today I held a book in my hands that made me hyperventilate. The story- a spooky concoction that includes a dash of The God of Small Things and a pinch of The Secret History, had ensnared me with the first line. I was shamefully derelict in my duties. Lunch was boiled milk and mushrooms which was received with much derision from a duo that had been promised 'Tagliatelle with a Delicate Creamy Mushroom Sauce'. I couldn't help it. Like the magical hold the house in Dover has over the Silver women, this book had the same numbing effect on me. Nothing else seemed as real in the room as the book I was holding in my hands. The book cast more shadows in the room than the sun and I felt the characters' hearts beating out from between the lines.

I fear this is all babbling pretension and not a proper review, but I have had a purely emotional response to this novel. Oyeyemi's style is unlike anything I have ever read. She plays with the words on the page to create illusions of safety before jolting the reader into uncertain and unearthly territory. Her complete control over the authenticity of the characters is so superb it is invisible. This is the first book I have read in awhile that effectively uses authorial interjection and even then Oyeyemi plays with this concept, taunting the reader with her omnipotence that she would have us believe is just hopeless devotion to a story that had already been told before she thought of it.

I feel as though I have met someone amazing, this book as a new character in my life. This is not a book to be forgotten. It is to be read again and again. Perhaps with sizeable gaps in between or I could end up fainting. Even now, sitting at my desk, I am being hit with images from the story that clamour to be relived, making me hold my breath as the scenes spell themselves out again and again. I feel extremely rattled sitting in my usual spot so I have rearranged the furniture to the position it is normally in for when I watch Lost. Back to the wall, eyes on the door, doona pulled up securely to cover everything except my face- waiting to be attacked.

Like those awe-inspiring people that one occasionally meets, I was overly reluctant to share White is for Witching with you. I feel like some of its power or magic may diminish the more popular it becomes. However, considering it is part of Waterstones's hideous 3 for 2 offer (which I regularly take advantage of, hating myself the entire time), I feel this is probably a redundant worry.

Rating: 10/10.
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