Helen Oyeyemi: The Icarus Girl



D they seemed pupil less There was something about her that was out of proportion Was she too tall and yet too small at the same time When bad or negative things happen to those around her Jessamy sees TillyTilly s hand in this and thinks sheTillyTilly is the cause Initially Jessamy is excited and intrigued but in time becomes worried and concerned as effects are felt by those close to her I think the temptation to move towards horror and supernatural descriptives is a mistake There is certainly a touch of magic realism present but it is about a child working out what influence and power she has in the world and worrying about the damage she may be capable of causing The novel moves between Nigeria and England and Oyeyemi manages to illustrate the tensions between cultures and traditions rather well Modern psychology in England to address the issues and traditionalreligious approaches in Nigeria Neither of which really work Jessamy had a twin who died at birth and her discovery of this provides another focus I found the ending a little odd and inconclusive and some of the plotlines seem a little na ve but Oyeyemi is a great writer and TillyTilly s multiplicity leads to so many possibilities The novel opens with Jessamy hiding in a cupboard Outside the cupboard Jess felt as if she was in a place where everything moved past too fast all colours all people talking and wanting her to say things Here she feels safe Coming out of the cupboard she has to make sense of the outside world not an easy task Some of us are still doing it This is an exuisite examination of the mind of an imaginative child with just hints of otherness around the edges The child and her thought processes are amazing and Oyeyemi s ability to maintain a certain ambivalence is remarkable I didn t go to sleep the night I finished this novel I got into bed and attempted to read my chapter or two and ended up reading until I was doneat 5 o clock in the morning Every time I finished one chapter I had to read the next and then the next But nothing ever happenedother than extreme creepiness due to the main character 8 year old Jess s evil creepy alter egospiritimaginary friend of the same age I had way too many uestions when this story was done I mean I like it when the story ind of stays with you at the end and gives you things to think about but this story just seems unfinished Like the author got tired after the first half and neglected to revisit characters and events that were developed and foreshadowed earlier Actually I think the foreshadowing was all in my headpart of my need to now my refusal to believe that there wasn t to be told of certain events later I expected to learn so much in the second half of the book Li My final feelings about this book couldn t be any farther from where they started I selected this book as one of the latest piles for a speed dating project and after 50 pages I wanted to put everything else aside and immerse in the story The writing of the young girl Jessamy and her mysterious friend grabbed me it felt new different freshSomehow along the way it grew tiresome I think perhaps the idea made a better short story and it just seemed stretched out the ending was not very satisfying and it could have been handled better Still a promising debut from an author I continue to hear great things about and I m looking forward to reading her recent works She was only 18 years old when this was published. S at all Drawing on Nigerian mythology Helen Oyeyemi presents a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles both real and spiritual in this lyrical and bold debut From the Trade Paperback editi.

Not my favourite of Oyeyemi s work but then again she wrote this while studying for her final highschool exams I can barely string a sentence together on deadline at the moment with no exams in sight and the writing is beautiful and strong in eual measure The only problem is the plot which has a tendency to tangle in on itself without uite getting anywhere Even the ending is a little flat it needs something if not explanation or resolution then at least dreaminess uncertainty But oh that final sentence is perfection If you believe there is a fine line between madness and psychic abilities this is a fascinating look at one troubled young girl s life Well worth the read even if you don t hold those beliefs As an English teacher I spend a lot of time being told to tell teenagers that the only important West African author is Chinua Achebe Having long believed that Benjamin Oke and Sole Woyinka prove that wrong I was delighted to find The Icarus Girl and in it a lovely slightly scary story about a NigerianBritish girl It is Western than most Africa books African than most English books In all it is a delight and I look forward to reading from the same author okay so the ending who nows but the rest of the book had a lot of enjoyable writing its true it was predictable and there were some inconsistencies but then i realized she was 17 when she wrote this so i forgave the flawsso magnanimous i it would have been 4 stars but that ending but i have her other novel so ill read that and the new one is out soon and im sure that they will be mature but still retaining the good bits from this first one 35 stars rounded down for the ending which felt too rushed and a bit too inconclusiveI have shelved this as horror as it certainly contained some very creepy and downright scary scenes On the one hand it s a story about a half English half Nigerian little girl coming to terms with her feelings of not fitting in On the other hand it s a dark dark tale incorporating some seriously terrifying mythologies This book was written when the author was still at sixth form and taken in that context the writing is amazing I ll certainly be looking to read of her work though possibly not at bed time judging by this one While this debut novel is certainly an impressive achievement for an 18 year old writer it s hard to escape the conclusion that purely on its own merits as a book it s rather flat Apparently partially inspired by the author s own troubles as a child the story centers on the psychological problems of 8 year old Jessamy The lonely only child of a Nigerian woman and English father she lives in the suburbs of Kent England and we meet her for the first time as she hides in a linen closet The set up is pure gothic lit little Jessamy has been experiencing unexplainable fevers and tantrums and is considered weird at school Events are set in motion when her family takes a trip to Nigeria to visit her mother s relatives There she meets a local girl her own age named Titiola aka TillyTilly whom she befriends and who shows up on Jess s doorstep after they return to England But is TillyTilly realOyeyemi is being deliberately ambiguous with the material but as TillyTilly becomes and a part of Jess s life and goads her into acting out the reader is forced to make a decision as to how to read the increasingly sinister events One option for the reader is to believe that TillyTilly is purely imaginary and a constr. Jessamy “Jess” Harrison age eight is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother Possessed of an extraordinary imagination she has a hard time fitting in at school It is only when she visits Nigeria

Uct of Jess s damaged psyche and that all that follows is Jess s doing Alternatively one can read the story as being gothicly supernatural TillyTilly is real and can affect the physical world In my book club people split down the middle on how they took the story but for me the latter interpretation is the only way to get any pleasure from the story Especially as we learn that Jess had a twin who died at childbirth and that in her mother s native Yoruba culture twins have a very special resonance and power The reader is given glimpses and impressions of the importance of this cultural element but it s never really spelled out in enough detail Oyeyemi attempts to build suspense and tension by slowly raising the stakes but the increasingly strange events seem to carry less conseuence than they merit and it generally just feels like and of the same until an awkward and rushed climax in NigeriaThere are a number of other problems with the book Although the author does a very nice job capturing the turbulent emotional world of a powerless 8 year old girl Jessamy is also far too insightful and learned at times she s reading Hamlet writing haikus discoursing on Coleridge etc Her parents are very poorly characterized very flat and insubstantial disappearing for large swathes of the story and remarkably inept and clueless when they are around Given the fairly extreme and escalating behavior Jess exhibits they express neither the concern nor urgency one might expect Her therapist is eually flat and it seems somewhat unlikely that his protocol would include letting clients roam around his house with his daughter who is about the only other character with any life a Once Upon a Seduction (Its All About Attitude kind of bold and fearless type of little girl Jess s Nigerian relatives are all standard issueindly fun people except for her grandfather who has the potential to be interesting but isn t given enough time to be fully developed Ultimately unless one is deeply into the mysticalgothic elements the book is rather flat The juxtaposition of Nigerian and English cultures doesn t really amount to very much certainly not when compared to other cross cultural novels the most obvious example being Zadie Smith s White Teeth The prose is fine nothing special granted impressive for an 18 year old and there s really no reason I would recommend this to anyone I wouldn t necessarily dissuade anyone from reading it but there s just nothing particularly compelling about it Oyeyemi wrote this whilst still doing her A levels at the age of eighteen It is an interesting exploration of a troubled child looking at imaginary friends mental health vs normalcy identity twins loss and conflicting cultures Ambitious for a first novel It revolves around Jessamy Harrison the child of a Nigerian mother and an English father She is eight years old Jessamy is uite precocious for her age but she is also prone to difficult behaviours Whilst in Nigeria Jessamy meets a friend called Titiola named TillyTilly by Jessamy a friend no one else seems to be able to see who can make things happen and do things no one else can going on rides in the fairground when it is closed for instance TillyTilly can also affect other people as well For some reviewers the relationship with TillyTilly moves the book into the horror or supernatural genres I understand why this is A girl was standing silently above her looking down at her with narrow dark eyes so dark that to Jess lying on the groun. Or the first time that she makes a friend who understands her a ragged little girl named TillyTilly But soon TillyTilly’s visits become disturbing until Jess realizes she doesn’t actually now who her friend

Helen Oyeyemi ✓ 3 read

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Helen Oyeyemi is a British novelist She lives in Prague with an ever increasing number of teapots and has written eight books so far