Book of the week: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi


Book of the week: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

...richly detailed stories with a bit of magic

By ELLE team  April 8th, 2016

CliffsNotes: With sly humour, magical characters and crisp writing, Helen Oyeyemi ties together nine short stories with a common theme of a lock and key. Characters from certain short stories show up in others to give the book a sense of continuity and let you follow their journey across time zones and geographical locations; but it is her knack for creating obscure situations that keeps readers constantly intrigued. Example:  In ‘‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea’, sisters Day and Aisha, who are being raised by their father and his boyfriend, deal with the news that their favorite singer has been accused of savagely beating a woman. Day returns later in ‘A Brief History Of The Homely Wench Society’, in a hilarious encounter of her as the leading a titular club at Cambridge University that goes against an all-male student association.

Get a taste: The collection opens with ‘Books And Roses’, a love story about a girl left in a Catalonia chapel with a key hanging around her neck. She grows up and finds work in a laundry, where she encounters a painter who also wears a key. They eventually discover that they are linked when they find the locks to fit the keys. Oyeyemi tells richly detailed stories with a smack of magic – like with her novel Boy, Snow, Bird (a retelling of Snow White) – and replicates that in her short stories:

Once upon a time in Catalonia a baby was found in a chapel. This was over at Santa Maria de Montserrat. It was an April morning. And the baby was so wriggly and minuscule that the basket she was found in looked empty at first glance…The monk who found this basket searched desperately for an explanation.

Author101: Born in Nigeria in 1984, Oyeyemi, migrated to London with her family at four years old. She signed a publishing deal for her first novel, The Icarus Girl that told the story of an eight-year-old torn between her British and Nigerian identity that she wrote while still in high school. At 31, Oyeyemi has published five novels and two plays and was also named Best Young British Novelists by Granta in 2013.

Fun fact: As a social and political science student at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, two of her plays, Juniper’s Whitening and Victimese, were performed by fellow students and then published by Methuen.

Similar reads: The Opposite Of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson, Return Of The Witch by Paula Brackston, The Widow by Fiona Barton