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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

New and notable: What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

Acclaimed novelist Helen Oyeyemi's first short story collection debuts this week, after much anticipation. It contains nine intertwined tales which are linked together in unexpected ways by the theme of locks and keys. This conceit could go awry in the hands of a lesser writer, but Oyeyemi weaves the stories so gracefully that the lock/key imagery provides cohesion and creates interesting possibilities, rather than coming off as contrived or precious.

In the spirit of her previous work (Mr. Fox, Boy Snow Bird) these stories blend the fantastical and folkloric with contemporary characters. Fairy tale tropes are subverted as mythic figures from antiquity are invoked in the lives of present day people in magical ways. Oyeyemi is a master of the stories within stories form. Although there are technically nine stories in What is Not Yours is Not Yours, they contain multitudes. Characters from earlier stories crop up in later ones, so the collection reads like a novel, yet is free from the pacing constraints of novels by virtue of its short story format.

Often heralded as a "writer's writer", Oyeyemi has cultivated a singular voice, and thoroughly pleasurable writing style. Her unique storytelling and remarkable talent for her craft are extra impressive when you take into account some biographical details: she is just 31 years old, wrote her first novel in high school, and dropped out of an MFA after one semester. The term "prodigy" springs to mind! What is Not Yours is Not Yours is an excellent new work from a brilliant writer who raises the bar ever-higher with each book.

Also noteworthy, as my dear colleague pointed out, Helen Oyeyemi's author photo is FIRE! I know as well as anyone that you can't judge a book by its cover, nor an author by her bio photo, but she is just radiating pure good vibes, isn't she?


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