Fairy-tale romances end with a wedding, and the fairy tales don't get complicated. In this book, the celebrated writer Mr. Fox can't stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels, and neither can his wife, Daphne.Read more...
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Fairy-tale romances end with a wedding, and the fairy tales don't get complicated. In this book, the 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 differently.
Mary challenges Mr. Fox to join her in stories of their own devising; and in different times and places, the two of them seek each other, find each other, thwart each other, and try to stay together, even when the roles they inhabit seem to forbid it. Their adventures twist the fairy tale into nine variations, exploding and teasing conventions of genre and romance, and each iteration explores the fears that come with accepting a lifelong bond. 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?
The extraordinarily gifted Helen Oyeyemi has written a love story like no other. "Mr. Fox" is a magical book, endlessly inventive, as witty and charming as it is profound in its truths about how we learn to be with one another.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-07-25
- Reviewer: Staff
In this highly conceptual novel from Oyeyemi (White Is for Witching), the writer St. John Fox receives a visit from his muse Mary while his wife Daphne, whom he taught early on not to complain, sits upstairs,. Thus begins a playful but frustrating examination of storytelling, inspiration, and mythology, with a specific focus on how some male writers have traditionally treated their female characters. Oyeyemi recounts this multi-layered tale from each of her characters' viewpoints (often in letter form, and at times from alternate versions of a character, such as "Dream-Mary"), yet the larger effect feels muddled rather than illuminating. Stories-within-stories (Mr. Fox's fiction) wrestle their way in as well, and include the intriguing tale of an orphan boy in Egypt and a Nigerian girl with a heavy heart; and an impossible little girl's paid companion. Mr. Fox certainly does seem intent on having his female characters endure gruesome circumstances, a tendency that his muse appears to challenge, though this critical aspect also remains obscure. The pleasure of Oyeyemi's gorgeous language and brilliant sensibility is almost entirely overtaken by the author's preoccupation with understanding the architecture of her own book. (Oct.)
An ivory woman with a mind of her own
When Helen Oyeyemi’s first novel, The Icarus Girl, hit shelves back in 2006, it was clear the Nigerian-born, Cambridge-educated author was a literary force to follow—not the least because she was only 20 years old at the time. Now, five years and four books later, she again proves herself a compelling writer capable of both vast creativity and intellectual heft.
Mr. Fox, Oyeyemi’s newest offering, is—most simply—the story of St. John Fox, a 1930s American novelist with a penchant for killing off his female characters. Bored by his meek wife, Daphne, St. John creates an imaginary muse-cum-mistress, Mary Foxe, to serve his creative and erotic needs. What he doesn’t count on, however, is that his invented lady-friend will turn against him, challenging his work and his marriage, not to mention the many problems of a patriarchal canon.
When Mary gets wind of her Pygmalion’s anti-feminist antics, she invites him to join her in a series of stories of their own making. She reinvents herself as an unpublished and wide-eyed fellow novelist, a florist’s assistant with a hankering for fairy-tale endings and a modern-day woman in love with her psychiatrist.
Additionally, Oyeyemi interweaves both Western- and African-inspired fables and folk tales into the dream-like yarns: In one story, two students at a finishing school for marriageable men discover a chained prisoner at the bottom of a teacher’s lake, while in another, a decapitated bride refuses to give her suitor her head. These themes of matrimonial violence are prevalent throughout, each of them a nod to classic “Bluebeard” or “Robber Bridegroom” tales (which match foolish wives against murderous husbands).
Such allusions within allusions make Mr. Fox endlessly fascinating and also endlessly impenetrable. The plot (to the extent that there is one) twists and turns, and readers can never be sure what’s real and what’s a figment of St. John’s imagination. Still, one gets the sense that such patchwork moralizing and, indeed, humor was Oyeyemi’s goal.