Saturday, July 30, 2011

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

   It is difficult for me to write a summary of this book because I could never really decide what it was about.  The best I can do is to say that the story revolves around 16 year old Miranda and her twin brother, Eliot.  They live with their father in Dover - in a house that has belonged to their family for generations.  The twins are grieving over the death of their mother, and their father has converted the house into a bed and breakfast, so they are constantly surrounded by strangers.  Miranda suffers from pica, an eating disorder that compels her to eat strange things, namely chalk.  But Miranda's eccentricities don't end there.  She has also inherited some abnormal abilities from the women in her family which often yield psychologically disturbing outcomes.  Oh and I should also mention that the house is haunted (and evil) and serves as a narrator in the story.  From the beginning of the story, the house is an ominous force as it informs readers that something is wrong with Miranda and asks, "Is Miranda alive?"  When she enters an intense relationship with a girls she meets in college, Miranda angers the house and it must retaliate - out of jealousy and the need for control.

   This book is a whirlwind of crazy, but nonetheless, it is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read.  Helen Oyeyemi's prose often reads like poetry, even if the subject is disturbing.  Her writing is complex, sensual, and disjointed, but it all comes together in the end.  Mostly.  The style of writing is so fast-paced and abnormal that it forces you to forget everything you know about storytelling and start reading without any expectations.

   It is difficult to know whether or not we can even believe Miranda's story.  Each of the narrators is obsessed with her in some way, which makes me wonder if the happenings in this book are ways for the people who are consumed by her to justify some sort of psychological demise that is too traumatic for them to comprehend.  Either way, White is for Witching is entrancing and will stay with me for a very long time.  When I first started reading it I didn't like it, mostly because I couldn't make sense of it.  But my confusion turned into wonderment  quickly, as Helen Oyeyemi's book is full of little surprises.  Her writing is so intense and evocative that it makes up for the challenging parts.  I'm curious now to read some of her other works just to see if the experience matches this level of intensity.