Book Review: Mr. Fox Helen Oyeyemi (Kindle Edition

Posted: November 26, 2011 in Books

mr fox

St John Fox is a successful horror writer who has the habit of killing of his female characters in the most gruesome way.   In his short story, Fitcher’s Bird, Mary Foxe asks her boyfriend Fitcher to behead her.  In another short story, a mysterious character named Reynardine, takes one woman, named Brown, away from another woman named Blue and asks her to write stories to him, when she writes enough stories she can win her man back. Reynardine also appears in St. John’s story called the Training at Madame De Silentio’s about two boys, one named Charlie Wulf a pretty boy with a large inheritance, and Charles Wolfe, who was unattractive, but intelligent, both got together, locked up the repressive headmistress of the school and set free Reynardine, a man in a mask at the bottom of a lake at the school.  The irony is that both Mr. Wolfe and Mr Wolfe have to wear masks in their married lives, Mr. Wulf, because his wife fears he wll run off with another woman, and Mr. Wulf who is too ugly to be seen in public.

While St. John is writing these stories he’s contacted regularly by Mary Foxe, a character of his, who seems to have come to life.  Mary is in love with St John, and is appalled by the violent demise of many of St, John’s female characters, he wants him to tome down the violence, that is the only way she will return to him.  However, the charming Mr. Fox has a problem, he is married to Daphne Fox, and Daphne suspects that St. John is having an affair with Mary.

St John is quite in love with Mary, but he keeps killing off his women characters.  In a story called What Happens Next, St John kills a woman passenger sitting next to Mary, she’s given a heart attack.  And the reader learns that Mary’s father killed Mary’s mother and is scheduled to die on death row.  As the threat of Mary actually meeting Daphne becomes more and more probable, the violence in Mr. Fox’s stories continue unabated.  In a story called Hide, Seek, an adopted boy in Cairo seeks the dead heart of Yoruba (Nigerian) girl, and in the story, My Daughter The Racist, a middle eastern widow is threatened with an honor killing, because she dares speak to a foreign soldier.

The violence, instead of abating, seems to be spilling over into his real life.  St John suspects Daphne of having affair with a Mr. Pizarsky, who seems to be another character from Mr. Fox’s  stories, Pizarsky was originally Mary’s landlord, and was in love with her.  Is St. John losing his mind or has Pizarsky come to life as well to torture St John and take his wife as well as his sanity?  Will St John respond to his wife with violence as he did against Mary in an early story?  Or will he take his Mary’s advice and tone down the violence in his life and his work?

This is a very difficult book to wrap your brain around because it is so derivative.  The idea of a author losing control of his main character is from an episode of the Twilight Zone, where the author’s wife comes home to find him cheating with another woman, turns out in the episode, the wife and the girlfriend are both characters from the author’s imagination and the author could no longer control the free will of the wife character.  “Fitcher’s Bird” is derived from a Grimm’s fairytale of the same name, about a wizard who  killed two sisters and was outsmarted by the third, who pretended to be crazy.  Reynardine is derived from a folktale of a warefox in  a European folktale.  There are multiple references to a Yoruba woman.  Yoruba is the language of Nigeria where the author is from originally.  Finally, Mr. Fox’s first name is St. John.  St John was the first name of the theological student in Jane Eyre who tried to sweep Jane off her feet to India, and who Jane flatly refuses.  Is that how the author views, Mr . Fox? A suave if earnest ladies man who is able to sweep a woman off her feet?  It becomes harder to ignore the name of the character when the author mentions Charlotte Bronte in her book.

This is also a difficult book to read because it’s non-linear on it’s storytelling, the story begins with Mary Foxe working as someone’s companion then getting her head chopped off by a man named Fitcher, well it’s kind of difficult to take a story seriously after one of the protagonists hands someone a sword and asks him to chop her head off.  There is no sense of time or place, sometimes Mary Foxe is a poor young girl in squalor in England, then she’s a fashion model on a plane, she meets Mr. Fox through writing letters to him, or she meets him on the plane as a fashion model. At times Mary is British, at times she is from New England, the vignettes could be set anywhere at anytime, so the reader has no sense of continuity.

Then there’s all the cute wordplay.  One character is named Fox, one is named Foxe, one is named Wulf, one is named Wolfe, and all the references to wolves and foxes, Reynardine is a fox, and two fox stories at the end that symbolize the two extremes of love.  In the end all the references to foxes and wolves got  a little too cute for me.  Also, the references are so obscure, that it’s hard to know what all the references are, I didn’t know Fitcher’’s Bird was a version of Bluebeard, I didn’t know who the heck Reynardine was and even when the  stories were well written, like Hide Seek and My Daughter The Racist, the endings seemed abrupt and arbitrary. For a book to be truly great, it has to be accessible, and this book is not, some of it gave me a headache.

It is a book about love, love triangles and love that goes horribly wrong.   Most importantly, it’s about violence against women, threatened, implied , and real unadulterated violence against women, which made the ending very hard to swallow, the theme seems to go one way and then the ending goes another, it’s just very disappointing.  The whole book is frustrating and ultimately disappointing.

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