The prize-winning, bestselling author of Boy, Snow, Bird and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours returns with a bewitching and inventive novel.
Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories–equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can–beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.
Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval–a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.
Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, it is a true feast for the reader.
Out March 5, 2019
I received this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
I must confess. I’ve had to read this book twice before I was willing to give my review opinion. When I read it the first time, I was, well, perplexed. Oyeyemi’s writing is either really bizarre, or, incredibly brilliant. At first read-through… I’d vote bizarre. Yet, after weeks of reading this book, it was still on my mind. So, like an avid lover of words/books, I thought I might have missed something. So I read it again.
You think this book centres around, yup, you got it, Gingerbread. It doesn’t.
The author takes rather basic, mundane characters and uses them and their flaws to point at the obscurity and malignant darkness many tales from folklore or myth hold, bringing to light hidden meanings and often misconstrued understandings readers take away from reading them. On first-read, I was waiting for an indication of a plot developing, and when that didn’t ‘seem’ to be happening, I looked toward the characters themselves.
At first confusing and seemingly redundant, the characters turned out to be the key to fully unlocking this brilliant and complex fantastical story. The author is incredibly inventive, her story technique scintillating and eccentric and her voice older than her years. Strange moments, lined with exhilarating quirkiness bring to bear the true hidden enjoyment expertly woven with clever plotting and sophisticated delight.
Her craftiness leaves you pondering the reality of our old world’s beliefs mixed in the murkiness of myth and fable. I was genuinely surprised by this author and so very glad that I read it a few chapters at a time to allow myself to fully digest the hidden layers of character and prose.
I gave this book: