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Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi : Prerequisites and After Effects

6th June, 2016

Book Review : Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Meet Mr. Fox, celebrated writer who loves killing off the heroines in his book. He is married to Daphne Fox and things are going fine until his imaginary muse, Mary Foxe, enters the scene. Mary belittles him for his treatment of female heroines and challenges his literary actions. She tries to change the course of his stories  by transforming him (and wife) from author into subject and thus unfolding a different story. Meanwhile Daphne suspects her husband is having an affair. And then Daphne and Mary meet each other face-to-face.

MY DEFINITION OF THE BOOK :

Mr. Fox is a dumpling- a dumpling of magical realism filled with finely chopped bits of fantasy and cloves of literary fiction. The book cannot be strictly called as one genre since many chapters often slip into fairytale retellings.

WHAT TO EXPECT?

I so loved this read. Which is why I thought I would break it down for those who want to pick this book. Hence the long (oops, very long) review, because this is a book for which if you aren’t sure you would enjoy the following characteristics, chances are you would end up cursing your decision to buy it.

A BETTER WAY TO DESCRIBE IT :

The novel spreads unbounded through alternate-reality stories of the three main characters. At the core is the marital discord between Mr. Fox and Daphne due to the dominance of his fantasy world as well as reversal of conventional paradigms between the writer and his muse. There are arguments about violence against women in art, the relevance of stories, and about identity in a patriarchal, colonial world.

WHO TELLS THE STORY?

This is a question the reader would be wondering throughout. Some stories are clearly told by one of the protagonists, others could be attributed to any (or none) of them.

PREREQUISITES:

Many of the tales are spinoffs of the famous fairytales of Perrault’s Bluebeard and Brother Grimm’s Fletcher’s bird. It would be helpful to know a bit about the stories. One line recap – Bluebeard is known for marrying young girls and killing them later. His last wife escapes her fate in a clever way, each ending different in different versions of the fairytale.

Book Review : Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

MY FAVOURITE STORIES:

My Daughter, the Racist which was published as a short story before the book came out and talks of Western intervention in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, even if it does not mention them by name. This was shortlisted for The BBC National Short Story Award, 2010. You can read a free version of the story here.

Hide, seek about a girl whose heart was too heavy that she hid it elsewhere. This is a love story that deals with grief and loneliness.

The training at Madame de Silentio’s  which is an eerie tale of two boys whose names are frightfully similar.

Some foxes is another favourite about a fox and his lover, with different endings. I adored this tale. Absolutely LOVED IT!!

THE SISTERHOOD OF MARY AND DAPHNE :

The scenes towards the end where Mary and Daphne meet show extraordinary writing capabilities. As I reader I was engrossed in how the story progressed – who is real and who is imaginary. Instead of a confrontation between the two characters I loved Oyeyemi’s charming approach – to instill some specks of feminism and put forth a magical way in which a muse could inspire someone other than the one who imagined her (muse) into creation. That was just brilliant and may I say a wonderful feather in the cap of literature?

“She encouraged herself to see her very small presence in the world as a good thing, a power, something that a hero might possess.”

WARNINGS FOR READERS :

Though I re assert that Oyeyemi is an important contemporary  writer who delivers promising fiction, I suggest you take a note of these before deciding whether to read the book.

WHAT BOTHERS ME:

Some stories did not fit in the general theme of the book. It was confusing to decide whether to treat them as stand alones or try to decipher hidden meanings.

AFTER EFFECTS:

It is all a blur when you finish the book. I felt as if I was on a merry-go-round spinning at high speeds for a very long time. The shifting perspectives, locations, and overall narrative can be very confusing.

WORD OF CAUTION:

You can read this book as a short story collection or an ordinary novel but either way, it’s never quite clear which parts are reality, which are stories, if Mary is real or just a figment of Mr. Fox’s imagination. The style of story telling is a bit disorienting. I took quite some time to get into the book and I really wasn’t impressed with the first few chapters. I am so glad I did not put it away for once I let myself be taken by the flow of the book, I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Book Review : Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU?

It is, if you like magical realism, fantasy, fairy tale retellings and Murakami. The book should be read like some books of Murakami, by surrendering to its power instead of trying to make sense of what is happening. If you like a well structured plot, maybe this isn’t one for you. And if you are a writer who loves exploring contemporary styles, definitely try this out for a very fluid and nonlinear form of story telling.

As much as I loved this read I do agree that this book isn’t every reader’s cup of tea. But I so enjoyed the read and I definitely recommend it.

Title : Mr. Fox
Author : Helen Oyeyemi
Publisher : Picador
Published : 2011
Language : English
Pages : 288
Rating : 4/5

Let’s discuss!

Have you read Mr. Fox? What did you think of the shifting perspectives and the style of story telling? Did you enjoy it or get a head ache? Do you enjoy Helen Oyeyemi’s works?

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Mr. Fox

About the Author

Helen Oyeyemi is a British novelist who wrote her first novel, The Icarus Girl, while still at school studying for her A-levels. In 2009 Oyeyemi was recognized as one of the women on Venus Zine’s “25 under 25” list. In 2013 she was included in the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list. Her latest book is What is Not Yours is Not Yours.

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This Post Has 26 Comments
    1. Oh no! I haven’t. This was my first Oyeyemi and I fell in love with her style.I bought Icarus Girl which is still unread. I will add What is yours is not yours to my list. It does seem like a great read.

  1. Ooooh, your review makes me want to read this so much more. It’s been on my TBR for a while now. You convey wonderful enthusiasm and I love the way you broke down your review. I’ve only read her Boy Snow Bird before, and I enjoyed it.

  2. Initially your description reminded me of that movie “Ruby Sparks” where an author writes what is essentially a manic pixie dream girl and she comes to life. But when she starts acting like a real woman (getting sad occasionally, wanting to make her own choices, etc.) he becomes frustrated with her. But clearly this has expanded even more upon that. I don’t mind nonlinear narrative at all, in fact sometimes I prefer it, so I’ll be adding this to the TBR!

    1. Wow. I should check out that movie. I think I have seen it a while ago because the story sounds very familiar but I cannot recollect anything clearly now. I hope you will enjoy the read if you pick it up . 🙂

  3. Oyeyemi is such an interesting literary figure. I have heard much praise for her work, yet have also seen many reviews say her writing is very confusing! I’m glad you ended up liking it, though, because I am interesting in reading Oyeyemi this year. I own What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, her latest short story collection.

    Btw, this book will qualify for Read Diverse Books Year-Round, under the category “a book written by a person of color.” 🙂 No pressure, but if you find the time you should add the link to your review in my blog.

    1. What is Yours is not Yours is highly praised. It is on my TBR. SO I would be buying it some day, maybe after the prices go down a bit. Many who read it loved it and some had complaints that the stories could be standalones, like in Mr. FOx too. But I dont mind that.

      Thanks for letting me know that it falls under that category. I did not add it since the book itself is not about the community. I will link it up shortly. 🙂

      1. Oyeyemi is known for writing about white characters, I hear. If that’s her preference, I respect it.
        But yes, any book written by a person of color will count! Thanks for adding it 🙂

  4. Thank you so much Susan for this review.
    I’ve already made a note to buy the book next time I find an english book store.
    (Not until July I’m afraid)
    Take care.
    Brian

    1. I know what you mean. I keep adding books to my list each month and postponing few to next month that every month there are few I can buy and so many that I can’t. I hope you will enjoy the read when you pick it up

    1. I read n Twitter how much you are enjoying the book. I really want to read White is for Witching too. Hope you get to read Mr. Fox soon. It is a bit confusing but such a nice read.

    1. I really want to read Boy, Snow, Bird. Do try this out. I hope you will enjoy this one. I really did. 🙂 In fact this is my first Oyeyemi and after this one I wanted to read all her other works.

  5. I absolutely love the sound of this book! The idea of it is just so unique and totally unheard of to me. It also sounds like the author has written this incredibly well and in a style that you’ve grown to appreciate. It seems like such a gem, especially as it runs over into so many genres and crosses with a lot of themes too.

  6. I received this book for my birthday this week and really enjoyed it. It took a while to get into and figure out, but once I did it became quite thrilling. I also loved the Daphne/Mary sisterhood, and the letter at the end “the three of us at home” thing. It was so sweet :). Oyeyemi is such an astute writer!

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