Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread is a dazzling mix of folklore and pop culture, and of allusions, absurdism and wit.

Oyeyemi’s latest novel (pub. March 2019) returns to her familiar themes of displacement, social-ineptitude and women who don’t quite fit in.

Harriet discovers her coeliac, teenage daughter, Perdita, unconscious in her bedroom surrounded by gingerbread – and her distraught dolls.

Perdita has done her best to unmake herself, but they won’t let her.

While keeping vigil, Harriet tells Perdita the story of her childhood and how she came to the UK with her mother, Margot, from Druhástrania. Reminiscent of Vulgaria (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Druhástrania may or may not exist and is fictionally listed in Wikipedia as ‘an alleged nation state of indeterminable geographic location.’

With Gingerbread, Oyeyemi riffs on Hansel & Gretel, and her novel shares many of the elements of traditional folktales: the normalization of magic, abstractness and flatness of character. Instead of psychological depth, we have dialogue presented in italics, adding to the not-quite-all-there sense of the characters who might fit a smile over their ‘teeth like a gumshield.’

As ever with Oyeyemi, the novel rewards careful reading, but it does not offer a solid plot to guide you through her world. Rather, it diverges and circumvents and follows blind alleys. However, if you are prepared to succumb to the marvellous, and willing to revel in the spellbinding prose, you are in for a feast.

When there’s that kind of change in the way words work it can make you think you’re no longer in your right mind.

Delicious and intoxicating, but plot-lite.

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