Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Summary from Goodreads:

Fairy-tale romances end with a wedding. The fairy tales that don't get more complicated. In this book, celebrated writer Mr. Fox can't stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels and neither can his wife, Daphne. It's not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold sifferently. Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox's game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice: Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit?

I once expressed my difficulty in pinning down Oyeyemi's style. It's been roughly a month since I read Mr. Fox, and I still have that exact same feeling. The best I could come up with is that there is a bit of Neil Gaiman in it, with her eye for the macabre and the bizarre. And a tad of Paul Austere, because there is an air of mystery to her story. And plenty of moments when you think, "What just happened?" But I may be short changing her. Oyeyemi is clearly her own person. As Mr. Fox is unlike any other piece of fiction that I have ever read.

Mr. Fox follows a writer named St. John Fox who has a penchant for killing off his women characters. His fictional muse, Mary Foxe, whom he has been in love with even after 7 years of absence, walks in his study one day and expresses her contempt for Mr. Fox's treatment of women in his stories.  Roberta saws off a hand and foot and bleeds to death at the church altar. Louise dies from multiple bullet wounds, as she is mistaken for her traitorous brother. Mrs. McGuire hangs herself from a door handle for fear of what his husband might do to her upon seeing that she burnt his dinner. Clearly tired of this arrangement, she challenges Mr. Fox into playing a little game with her. A game where she tries to assert herself by taking the reigns at narrating.

What comes after is a book with multiple short stories peppered all over. Stories where Mr. Fox and Mary Foxe duel with one another, asserting their own views and ideas regarding the male and female characters, and how the story should go. Sort of like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but instead of blasting each other through the walls with uzis, they go and battle it out in narration. And this grappling with each other shows in each of the mini stories.  While I couldn't always pin point which was Mary's and which was St. John's handy work, it is clearly very skilled of Oyeyemi to make something of this sort, where you feel like the stories are alive and changing every second according to whichever narrators' whim, idea, feeling. Oyeyemi took to retelling the tales of Bluebeard, Reynard the Fox and Fitcher's Bird, among others. She also manages to up the ante by constructing the characters in such a way that you never could really know who is the villain and who is the hero. 

These are my top stories: 

Be Bold, Be Bold, But Not Too Bold - This is the hilarious and intriguing letter exchange between Mary and St. John. 

Dr. Lustucru - This one is about a man beheading his wife, thinking that he could just put the head back on, when he feels up to having a conversation. Only to find a different result than what he had in mind upon reattachment. Very creepy. 

The Training at Madame Silentio's - This one is about this finishing school where delinquent teenage boys are taken in, and trained to become top notch husbands with subjects like Strong Handshakes, Silence, Sport and Nutrition Against Impotence, Rudimentary Car Mechanics...someone should clearly put up a school like this in real world. XD

All in all, while the book isn't entirely very neat and orderly. In fact, it is a bit I found it hard to connect some the shorts to the main story arc. And even had difficulty deciphering what was going on with the real lives of St. John and his wife Daphne, and Mary Foxe who is somehow starting to come alive. Flesh-and-bones-alive. Still I took much delight in the mystery of it all. Oyeyemi's ultimate message is on gender bias, in literature and in real life, challenging the world to address this long standing issue. 

Comments

  1. Hmm. This sounds really interesting. The gore seems very casual and beside the point.

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    Replies
    1. Right. The gore and the killings were just devices used in order to better illustrate her message. It was indeed one interesting reading experience. :)

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  2. Macabre and bizarre... It's sold! :)

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    Replies
    1. Yes!!! We love morbid things! Haha! XD

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