Thursday, November 03, 2011

Oyeyemi's Mr. Fox

Mr. Fox / Helen Oyeyemi
Toronto: Penguin, c2011.
256 p.

Mr. Fox is a twisted tale, featuring a writer and his muse fencing with stories. St. John Fox is a writer who has a startling propensity to kill off the women in his stories. Mary Foxe is his muse, though as Rob Mclennan has suggested in his review, perhaps "muse" is the wrong term... Mary seems more of a partner, a check on his imagination. She decides to challenge St. John on his writing habits, and they begin to share a series of stories showing facets of love and violence.

It's really difficult to summarize this novel, so I'm going to do something I don't often do: share some of the publisher's summary, as they seem to have captured the essence of this book --

Fairy-tale romances end with a wedding, and the fairy tales don't get complicated. In this book, the celebrated writer Mr. Fox can't stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels, and neither can his wife, Daphne. It's not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold differently... Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair, and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox's game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice:
Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams, or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit?
Mary Foxe is a cunning creation, both conjured by St. John's imagination and real in her own right. St. John's a writer, Mary is a writer, and his wife Daphne is also a writer. The three converge in an ending that dazzled me with its originality. All three are examined deeply, and while I personally felt that St. John is a real arse, he's dealt with in a non-judgemental way -- the point of the story is not to condemn him, but to explore what makes him turn to decapitation and murder as a means of solving the problem of an ending in his stories. And, to question why he turns to his writing and his imaginary inspiration rather than to his very real wife.

The stories jump from narrator to narrator, and setting and time frame, and it often takes a page or two to sort it out and situate yourself in the new tale. While it could have felt disjointed, to me it felt more kaleidoscopic: the stories were shards of the same premise, all tumbling around together in one container, creating different images and patterns with each turn. While it was hard work at times, it was also startling and shocking and beautiful and horrible to read. Oyeyemi's voice is very much her own; this reminded me of her other books yet she's created a wholly new story here. Influenced by the tale of Bluebeard, she puts her own spin on the concept and creates something that shines with her particular brand of brilliance.

I don't have to understand every word of Oyeyemi's work to be swept up in the charm and talent she exhibits in her storytelling. I may have to go back and reread some of this one to really follow the progression of things. However, it's another strong addition to Oyeyemi's already enviable oeuvre.


About the Author:
Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria in 1984 and raised in London. She is the author of three novels: The Icarus Girl, which was completed before her nineteenth birthday; The Opposite House, which was nominated for the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; and White is for Witching, which was nominated for a 2009 Shirley Jackson award and won the 2010 Somerset Maugham Award. She is also the author of two plays, Juniper’s Whitening and Victimese.


Tales of a Ranting Ginger - Oct 24
Snowdrop Dreams of Books - Oct 25
Just a Lil’ Lost - Oct 26
In the Next Room - Oct 27
Evie Bookish - Oct 28

Florence in Print - Oct 31

A Bookworm’s World - Nov 1

Krystal’s Stellar Book Blog - Nov 2

Hands and Home - Nov 4

Thank you Bronwyn from Penguin Canada for organizing this fantastic blog tour! :)


  1. This sounds great! I'm such a sucker for metafiction, and I love the idea of a wife being jealous of her husband's muse... There's an unusual love triangle. I'm adding Mr. Fox to my list - Thanks!

  2. I've yet to read any Oyeyemi, but the more I hear of her, the more curious I am. It sounds like the premise of this new book is just as original as her last ones - I really should make time for her sometime soon!

  3. This sounds good. I am going to see about getting a copy.

  4. Sometimes I get depressed that someone a year younger than me has written at least two crazy-popular books and has that sort of amazing creativity in her, while I... er, really enjoy getting eight hours of sleep in a day. I really need to start being productive.

  5. Rayna - oh, it's unusual all right ;) But if you have a fondness for metafiction -- and for great writing -- you will like this!

    Emily - it's astonishing how she keeps writing these fresh, unusual, unique tales. Each one has surprised me in different ways.

    Kailana - you could likely find this one easily - think it will be everywhere

    Aarti - try being 15 years older than her, LOL! I know the feeling; seeing that kind of originality and constant output makes me feel like I've been twiddling my thumbs for the last 15 years!


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