Book Review: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for witching by Helen Oyeyemi

ore: Miranda Silver is in Dover, in the ground beneath her mother’s house.

This has to be the most unsettling book that I have ever read, with the possible exception of Let the Right One In although that is a completely different kind of unsettling. I have never read anything like it: Helen Oyeyemi’s writing is unique, and the sort of thing that one probably loves or hates without an inbetween. It is a story told by unreliable narrators: several of them, who are not always who they say they are. It is a story that crept up inside my head and squeezed my heart and promised not to let me go. It was not the story that it started out as, either. There are forms in which I have read this story before, and in which I am tired of reading it. I am tired, more than I can say, of the pretty thin fragile girl going mad while holding up all the things that nobody else can see and breaking breaking breaking while always looking beautiful – most girls are not fragile. Most women are not mad, but spitting furious (in my experience) and living with things that are not easily spoken of. I am tired of this narrative which has no space for the fury.

(And Miranda was not the only girl there: Ore was there, holding a whole different set of things, and Tijana and SPOILER I was glad that Ore left, that she did not stay to pick up pieces in a fight that wasn’t hers that would have tried to destroy her. Not glad that, again, the queer romance ended in tragedy and separation, but glad that Ore left and survived END SPOILER.)

White is for Witching was not quite this narrative. It went somewhere else. It was that story, told differently and compulsively and with layers and layers that I will probably be peeling back compulsively over the next week, month… It was about an angry house full of rattling histories and bigotry, and a family haunting and haunted. It was about keeping people out or letting them in and all of the ugly ugly things that get swept out of sight. It was about nationality and legacy and the things that get carried and the the things that are devoured and who belongs. Who really belongs, and what that means, and who gets to decide that and what right they have to do so. It was about all the things that Miranda Silver tries to devour or keep at bay; all the history bearing down on her and bearing down on Ore.

It was complex. I don’t think I can unravel it in just one review but it is worth reading, and worth reading again, and marking notes in the margins with pencils and listening to and thinking about the things that nobody wants to look at and why and the messy patchwork that makes up this country and all the everyday violence therein. And the ghosts, standing behind everyone.

Rating: read this book. Do not eat the damn apples.

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The Life and Times of Angel Evans: Behind the Scenes

Welcome to the third in the Behind the Scenes posts! Apologies for the delay – I was unwell over the weekend.

This month, chatting about Yumiko; the ghostly girlfriend of Angel Evans.

Yumiko from The Life and Times of Angel Evans. By Meredith Debonnaire

Yumiko original character sketch, with colour.

Yumiko was one of those characters who developed as I wrote. I did not plan her out, and when I first started writing I knew next to nothing about her. She was a very gentle presence who was simply there. I have different ways of working with characters: some characters I sit and figure out their entire backstory, all their likes and dislikes, defining memories. With others, I think I’ve figured out those things, and then I have to go back and poke them, and then the story changes them and they end up as patchworks. And other characters are just there. Present where they need to be. Yumiko was one of those.

I’m a little ashamed to say that I did not pay lots of attention to her in her own right: Angel Evans, as a character, is really quite attention hungry (see how she’s sneaking into this post that is meant to be all about Yumiko?). Writing Yumiko mostly came easy, but it very much felt like writing from the outside rather than the inside. It’s hard for me to say what’s going through Yumiko’s mind.

So, rather than going on about the mysteriousness and elusiveness of Yumiko, here are some things I do know.

  • Yumiko was newly dead when she met Angel. The exorcists in Yumiko’s world are very very good at their jobs, so Yumiko was putting a great deal of effort into hiding. She was also dealing with the trauma of being, well, dead.
  • Her family hired the exorcists. She doesn’t like talking about that.
  • Her death was under investigation as suspicious. She doesn’t like talking about that either.
  • Really don’t ask her why she’s a ghost rather than having moved on – depending on her mood she will either start talking about bright lights and tunnels and/or islands covered in glowing mist, or she will lecture you on the importance of recognising different forms of existence. Whether or not any of this is genuine is anyone’s guess.
  • She had no idea who Angel was when she met her: it was about two months in before Yumiko realised that the hopeless junkie she was involuntarily haunting and whom she kept trying to sneakily feed was the Angel Evans, savioiur of the multiverse.
  • Yumiko was not impressed by the saviour of the multiverse thing. She’d had way too much first-hand experience of Angel as a person by then.
Yumiko and Angel Evans meet

Yumiko and Angel meeting.

  • Cranberries, or something rather like it, were Yumiko’s favourite food. She misses them a lot. Sometimes, if she’s sad, she will “acquire” cranberries and leave them all over the flat.
  • Most ghosts cannot do as much physical interaction as Yumiko does. She’s unusual in that respect.
  • Yumiko has a rich and varied online life – the internet, although extremely haunted, is just so much fun.
  • Yumiko’s pre-death memories are hazy – this is quite ordinary for a ghost.
Yumiko, Angel Evans

black fog day

And that’s it for now – I do hope to be able to write more stories in this universe at some point, and one of the ideas I’ve toyed with is using Yumiko’s point of view….

Please join me again next month – I don’t yet know what I’ll be writing about so if you have anything you’d particularly like to see on Behind the Scenes, let me know and I’ll take it into consideration.

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Book Review: Hopeless Maine by Tom and Nimue Brown (this review originally written for Pagan Dawn

Hopeless Maine by Tom and NImue Brown

Procession somber; pageant walked, shuffled, lurching to uncertainty.

This review first appeared in Pagan Dawn magazine.

Hopeless is an island that nobody can leave. Let that sink in; it’s a deeply layered bit of worldbuilding, and it’s reflective of the style of this book. Simple on the surface, yet with leviathans beneath.

On the surface, the story is of an orphan trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs: a common enough tale. Except the orphan is Salamandra, who’s not even sure what she is; she has magic, but she’s not witch material and the most likely option after that in Hopeless is monster. The strange and unfriendly world that she’s trying to navigate is full of mist and seabeasts and ghosts and ancient weirdness. She’s also quite happy to be an orphan, thanks.

With Hopeless, Maine Tom and Nimue Brown have created a world with a deep well of mythology, eerie and beautiful. It has a resonance similar to a fairytale or a legend (there is many a reference to spot). The artwork is exquisite – you could take any page, hang it on a wall and still find new things to look at weeks later – and the interplay between words and image and theme is incredible. I noticed that the book begins in plain black and white, fades into almost sepia with colour washes and bleeds into muted colour by the end. It gave me the impression of a fog gradually lifting.

There’s a sweet and biting sense of humour that runs through the entire book. There are invisible friends and demons and unhappy reverends and normal people trying to live their lives in truly extraordinary circumstances, and sometimes you can tell which is which. There is, against all logic, hope.

I could say a great deal about this book, but I do not have the space so what I will tell you is that I cried both times I read it and that I am planning to read it again. Because sometimes the world feels like a hopeless and inescapable place without sunlight, and how wonderful to see on page such an honest and imaginative tale of working through that. And one that made me laugh too!

I want to know more about every single character because they all seem to live very full lives beyond the pages. I want to puzzle over every odd end of myth that I picked up and laugh at the cooking classes. And I want more of Salamandra, persistently carving out a space for herself with charm and stubbornness.

Rating: read this book. Don’t make eye contact with the beasties.

Get more Hopeless on the blog here.

Book Review: Saints and Adventurers by Frances Gapper

saints and adventurers by frances gapper

On the day my brother died, when I was fourteen, a grey, wet, windy day in late August, my grandmother drowned the cat.

This is another one of the Women’s Press books that I’ve managed to get my hands on. It’s a story of grief, madness and menstruation; a work full of transformations. In many ways, it was very much of its time. And then again, the book was just full of characters that I recognised – people from my life who had snuck into the pages and were waving out at me.

It’s told by Jenny, who is growing up after her brother’s death. Her mother will not talk about her feelings, is a tightly controlled and deeply angry woman. And her grandmother is the opposite in so many ways; a Corsican wise-woman plying her trade in Surbiton. It’s a dizzying portrait of adolescence, of all the different ways to go mad. There are angels that turn up and cats that die and a father who simply has no idea and spends all his time writing a book about butterflies and emerging only when the tea runs out.

There are many moments when I laughed out loud. And many when I cried. Jenny’s best friend, Alicia, is starving herself and recites poetry backwards. Her mother retreats into a world she can control. Her grandmother drowns cats and fixes electrics and talks about blood and death and magic. Jenny’ sort-of boyfriend is endearing, in a hopeless way; his parents are Freudian psychoanalysts and tried to raise him to be normal (it backfired). And Jenny is lost and wandering, trying to grow up and not knowing how or what it means.

It’s a rich, rich work that spoke to me very deeply. It didn’t offer solutions or even take clear sides. Here was a family being a family, which is a much more complicated endeavour than most people think. There’s religion and sex and all the strange things that get thrown up during adolescence and a wry sense of humour that will suddenly turn in on itself, laughing at the notion of the book. Spirits and ghosts and humans. Basically, I really really enjoyed this book but it’s very hard to review!

Rating: read this book. Climb a hill and scream.

A Smugglerific Cover: The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire — The Book Smugglers

It has arrived! Behold, the beautiful cover of The Life and Times of Angel Evans. Isn’t the art incredible? I know I love it. You can buy the ebook today, or wait until it’s available for free on the BookSmugglers website (which will be on the 13th Sept). I hope you enjoy this short story – in case you’re wondering it involves a) a heroine b) a friendly poltergeist c) some dead prophets d) MAGIC!

In which we reveal the cover for The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire! Today we are thrilled to share with you the final cover for Book Smugglers Publishing’s Superhero season of short stories. Without further ado, BEHOLD! The smugglerific cover! About the Story Doctor Who meets Good Omens in this new…

via A Smugglerific Cover: The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire — The Book Smugglers