Finalist for PEN Open Book Award
From the award-winning author of Boy, Snow, Bird and Mr. Fox comes an enchanting and thought-provoking 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. "'Sorry' Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea" involves a "house of locks," where doors can be closed only with a key--with surprising, unobservable developments. And 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).
As ever, Oyeyemi's creative vision and storytelling are effervescent, wise, and insightful, and her 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.
In her first story collection, Oyeyemi (Boy, Snow, Bird) conjures present-day Europe, made enticingly strange by undercurrents of magic, and populated by ghosts, sentient puppets, and possible witches alongside middle-aged psychiatrists, tyrants, and feminist undergrads. Loosely linked by a theme of keys and doors, many of the stories feature female protagonists discovering their sexuality or coming into their own. In " Sorry' Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea," 14-year-old Aisha and Tyche, her father's colleague, send the goddess Hecate to torment teen idol Matyas F st for beating a prostitute; in "A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society," Aisha's sister, Dayang, is a member of a women's society at Cambridge University, waging a good-natured war against the Bettencourt Society, a rival all-male club. "Drownings" is an allegorical tale set in a dictatorship where citizens are "drowned in the gray marshlands deep in the heart of the country." "Dornicka and the St. Martin's Day Goose" is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, draw on Eastern European history and lore. And in "Presence," a married couple in London undergo a pharmaceutical trial causing them to hallucinate a son they never had, a "makeless" boy. Readers will be drawn to Oyeyemi's contagious enthusiasm for her characters and deep sympathy for their unrequited or thwarted loves.
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What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
These stories, apart from the first one, are hard to read, hard to follow, hard to interpret and don't seem to flow well. I would not recommend this book, and although some may like Oyeyemi's work, it certainly is not my cup of tea.