Review: White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi

In White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi has done the thing I was afraid she wasn’t going to manage, which is to become EVEN BETTER YET in her third book than she was in her second.  She can’t keep this up much longer, right?  I mean she has to plateau at some point, right?  Helen Oyeyemi!  What will you do to stagger and amaze us next?

White is for Witching is about a set of twins, Eliot and Miranda, who live in a haunted house.  Miranda has pica, and the house hates foreigners.  As the book goes on, we come to realize that there are people in the house apart from those that its inhabitants can see, people that the women of Miranda’s family have sometimes been able to perceive.  Miranda and Eliot go off to Cambridge and South Africa (maybe), respectively, and still they are bound to each other and to the house.  Spookiness ensues.

Simon’s review of this book suggested Helen Oyeyemi might have got too experimental for her boots with this one, which filled me full of fears that she had given up on interesting plots/characters in favor of using too many words in unorganized word salad sentences.  In fact there’s just a hella lot of ambiguity and uncertainty about the sort of evil the house is wreaking, and what all the characters’ true motives are.  Which is the sort of ambiguity I can see why someone would mind it, but I do not, when the book is about a sinister haunted house.  A haunted house is scarier if you can’t lay the ghost.

Another reason I liked it (but someone else might not) is that there are multiple narrators, in varying degrees of reliability (one of them is the house.  You really can’t rely on the house to tell the truth).  I love multiple narrators.  I have done ever since I was in fourth grade and my mother bought me Caroline B. Cooney’s Among Friends, and I thought it was the coolest idea ever and swiftly went off and wrote a book my own self with multiple narrators.  One of them was a unicorn, and one was a talking book.  And at the end?  The army of men and the army of women all decided to get married, so they didn’t have to have a war after all.  Lesson learned: It is rather lame to pretend like you are going to have to have a Major Event (like a war) at the end of a book, and then for some silly reason not have to have the Major Event after all.  [Thinly veiled subtext: I learned this lesson before I left elementary school, while Stephenie Meyer never learned it at all.]

That unnecessary slighting reference to Stephenie Meyer brought to you by: Embarrassment at my nine-year-old self’s idea of what constituted a good story.

Anyway, multiple narrators.  I am a fan.  If you are not, this may not be the book for you.  Ditto for if you need to be perfectly clear on the spooky haunty happenings and what’s real and what’s not.  Otherwise, hit this up immediately.  It is damn good.  I’m only sad that Helen Oyeyemi has no further books for me to read right now.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
Stuck in a Book
Torque Control
Coffee Stained Pages
Fantasy Book Critic
The Indextrious Reader

Tell me if I missed yours!

Two books by Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters – under this pseudonym as well as her other one, Barbara Michaels – is one of my most favorite authors of all the authors.  I like her because she writes the kind of book I like, but she does it (usually) tongue-in-cheek, and furthermore she has read all the same books I have read.  Not just, like, Little Women, which everyone has read, but you know, Rafael Sabatini and The Sheik and trashy things like that.  I appreciate this from Elizabeth Peters.

The Love Talker and Devil-May-Care, both of which I read in the last few days, are superficially rather similar.  In both, a woman comes to live with her eccentric relatives, and a number of strange happenings ensue.  In The Love Talker it’s all to do with fairies getting photographed, and in Devil-May-Care it’s ghostly apparitions of the ancestors of the posh families in the town. Devil-May-Care is, I must say, vastly superior in every way.  The resolution of the mystery is more satisfying, and I like the heroine better, and I like the elderly relatives better, and Ellie in Devil-May-Care has an aggravating fiance to be gotten rid of in a totally humorous fashion.  (Though why she was with him in the first place one is never really sure.)

If you are ever in the mood for a friendly, rather Gothic sort of mystery, Barbara Michaels is generally the way to go.  Elizabeth Peters has written these two ones, which are a bit Gothic, but most of her books under this pseudonym are regular (non-Gothic!  non-ghosty!) mysteries.  Her four books about Jacqueline Kirby totally slay me, especially the one set at a romance novel convention.  Oh, Jesus, I need to read that again.  I cleverly bought a Jacqueline Kirby omnibus in New York, but it was tragically published before Naked Once More got written, so it’s a Jacqueline Kirby, I don’t know, pluribus instead.

I really don’t feel this blog accurately reflects my tremendous fondness for Elizabeth Peters.  Her Amelia Peabody series is a load of lovely mysteries set in Egypt at the turn of the (20th) century, and she’s written one of her best women for it – she does men better than women really.  The series has been going on perhaps a smidge too long, but I’d say right up to Children of the Storm the books were all excellent.  I don’t even like mysteries that much.  She’s got a Master Criminal, and all sorts of mummies and antiquities and Howard Carter.  I love Elizabeth Peters.

(Oo, but don’t read Someone in the House.  It’s so scary!  I couldn’t sleep after I read it!  The house in question (spoilers ahead, but that doesn’t matter since I know you’re going to listen to me and NEVER READ IT), the house is spooky and haunted and it’s trying to make its inhabitants happy.  Yeeeeeergh.  It’s not trying to get rid of them!  It’s trying to make them happy.  It creeped me out so much!  Way more than haunted house mysteries where the house is trying to drive people insane or kill them.)

My Cousin Rachel, Daphne du Maurier

Verdict: Not as good as Rebecca.

Philip, the protagonist of My Cousin Rachel, has been raised by his bachelor cousin Ambrose.  Ambrose goes away to Italy, marries there, and a few years later sends a letter to Philip intimating that he is in danger, and asking Philip to come to Italy straight away.  When Philip gets there, Ambrose has died, and Rachel is gone.  He conceives a hatred for her, believing that she was responsible for Ambrose’s death; but when she comes to stay with him in England, he falls for her straight away.  Is she evil?  Did she poison Ambrose, and is she poisoning Philip now?  Spooooooky.

I liked Rachel.  You can see why Philip falls in love with her – like Rebecca, she absolutely deserves to have the book called after her.  And like the protagonist of Rebecca, Philip is never completely sure where he stands, but unlike poor Mrs. de Winter, Philip is determined to be sure (act sure).  For me, this made all the difference – he drove me insane and I wanted to slap him.  Seriously, guy, ever hear of black and white thinking?  Also called splitting?  This is symptomatic of some really unpleasant personality disorders, and you could maybe think about curbing that tendency.  I couldn’t figure out why his godfather’s daughter liked him so much, good heavens.

On the other hand, Philip’s extremism makes possible something I love, which is that we see Rachel through his eyes, but that the rest of the characters all have things to say about her too.  So we can see that other people are reacting to her charm, the same way Philip does, but we can also see things that Philip refuses to look at or acknowledge – her extravagance, the way it looks to have her living in the house with him.  It keeps you guessing, and you never are sure whether she’s poisoning him, and poisoned Ambrose.  Per usual Daphne du Maurier writes beautifully and uses some gorgeous images.

Er, but it’s still not as good as Rebecca.  I love me some Rebecca.

Other reviews:

books i done read
Bookfoolery and Babble
Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic
The Literate Housewife
a lovely shore breeze
S. Krishna’s Books
Once Upon a Bookshelf
Stuck in a Book
we be reading

Blackbriar, William Sleator

I like it when it rains on a weekend that I don’t have any outside plans.  This weekend, I curled up in my comfy chair and read Blackbriar.  (Originally I opened up my blinds, too, so that I could see the rain, but there was THE HUGEST BUG EVER on the outside of my window, seriously, it was as big as a grown hummingbird, and it wouldn’t go away when I rapped on the window, so I closed the blinds again and just enjoyed the sounds of the rain.)  Ella was right.  It is indeed extremely Gothic.

Fifteen-year-old Danny and his informal guardian Philippa move out to the country, to a remote old house.  The people in the village are very weird about the house, for reasons they won’t explain, and it is indeed a mysterious house: there are names and dates carved into one of the doors; the cat, Islington, keeps acting strange; someone comes asking for Mary Peachy, whose name is carved into the door along with other names from four hundred years ago.  Oh, and – eek! – Danny and Philippa keep coming home to find that somebody has lit a fire in the house while they were gone.  Danny makes friends with a local artist’s daughter, Lark, and they all become set on solving the mystery.

I wish I’d read this years ago!  It was such an enjoyable read.  I love the image of the names and dates carved into the door.  But just generally I like Gothic novels.  I read Elizabeth Peters’s The Camelot Caper, which is a spoof of Gothic novels, before I read very many actual Gothic novels, and I always think of it when people are in remote, spooky houses in books.  I am always in the mood for a good Gothic novel.  Northanger Abbey really charms me, and I love Daphne du Maurier also.

Thanks for this, Ella!

Anyone have a favorite Gothic novel they want to recommend me?  Or another William Sleator book I shouldn’t live my life without reading?