Title: What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Published by: Riverhead Books
Year of Publication: 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
An enchanting collection of intertwined stories.
Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical.
The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side.
♦ In “Books and Roses” one special key opens a library, a garden, and clues to at least two lovers’ fates.
♦ In “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” an unlikely key opens the heart of a student at a puppeteer school.
♦ “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” involves a “house of locks,” where doors can be closed only with a key—with surprising, unobservable developments.
♦ In “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think,” a key keeps a mystical diary locked (for good reason).
Oyeyemi’s tales span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities. Is a key a gate, a gift, or an invitation? What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours captivates as it explores the many possible answers.
I love the stories in this book. However, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours isn’t a book to simply be read. It demands your full attention and mind power.
The first story immediately sets the dynamic for the rest: two love stories linked across time by two keys. A story isn’t just a story. It’s a key to another story. While I don’t usually appreciate stories within stories, Helen Oyeyemi is a master of this device. And as I have now come to associate with her stories, time dictates nothing.
Over the course of the book, we meet several characters in the past and future. These characters are developed over time, we get to learn about their past, catch up with them as grown ups etc and these are several stories in itself. I’ll admit I got lost a couple of times, especially when the mystical was laid on thick. However, this is not criticism of the author’s style, It’s a difference in taste.
Luckily, I found myself faster than I did in Mr Fox, so I guess Helen Oyeyemi’s writing is growing on me.
‘Presence’ was a bit scary for me. My tendency to step into the character got me in trouble here. Generally, I avoid getting attached to characters I know are about to go through anything mentally or emotionally grueling. This is just so I can sleep in peace, but I didn’t see it coming in time. Can grief actually drive people insane? I hope I never have to find out.
I love the Homely Wench Society, their rivalry with the Bettencourt Society reminds me of a certain Veronica Mars Episode.
Helen Oyeyemi also put into words, something that has always baffled me about Lois Lane:
…Ed was working on a piece about hierarchies of knowledge for female love interests in the early issues of her favorite comic book; how very odd it must be to operate within a story where you’re capable, courageous, droll, at the top of your field professionally and yet somehow still not permitted the brains to perceive the man who you see or work with every day is exactly the same person as the superhero who saves your life at night.
“Seems like someone behind the scenes clinging to the idea that the woman whose attention you can’t get just can’t see ‘the real you,’ no?”
I could go on about the brilliance of this short story collection. A mystical retelling of the red riding hood story.A otel you can never leave once you have a room key, I think I saw a couple of witches too. Oh, and books that are better left locked.
This book is pure genius. No one could ever accuse Helen Oyeyemi of being regular.
I would recommend it to anyone who loves great stories but isn’t ready to commit to a 200+ page story, because reading this book at a go is a travesty anyway. It should be minced and carefully digested.
Several times, I found myself wishing a story wouldn’t end and several movies could be made from this book.
I hope somebody’s listening.
“How will I know when I’ve grown up?’ When I started using words I didn’t really know the meaning of, she said. I said I did that already, and she said yes but I worried about it and grown-ups didn’t.”
“Do you think that maybe we’re able to love someone best when that person doesn’t know how we feel?”
“The poison taster is feeling a bit ill. He’s well paid but he hates his master so much that today, the day he finally tasted poison, he’s eaten a lot and is managing to keep a normal expression on his face until his master has eaten at least as much as he has. Eat heartily, boss, don’t stop now…”
“Consent is a downward motion, I think – a leap or a fall- and even the most decisive people can find themselves unable to tell whether or not their consent was freely given. That inability to discover whether you jumped or were pushed brings about a deadened gaze and a downfall all its own.”