four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
user_rating: 
0

A-Mr FoxThe Nigerian-born Helen Oyeyemi was raised in London; her acclaimed first novel, The Icarus Girl (2005), was published when she was just 21. Mr. Fox, a series of interconnected vignettes, is her fourth book.

The Story: The celebrated 1930s novelist St. John Fox ("Mr. Fox"), self-absorbed and self-tortured, is famous for killing off his heroines in a seductive, Bluebeard-like fashion. His wife Daphne, who at first accuses Mr. Fox of adultery, watches as he descends into a mad relationship with Mary Foxe, his longtime imaginary muse. But then Mary becomes real--or seemingly so--as she challenges Mr. Fox to join her in a series of stories that ask him to explore the deeper sides of love, creativity, passion, sex, violence, and human connection. Mary, who comes to represent many things as their relationship changes over time and place, soon emerges as a flesh-and-blood woman. And as the interactions among Mr. Fox, Daphne, and Mary gain urgency, Mr. Fox must reevaluate the meaning of true love and choose between life or slippery illusion.
Riverhead. 336 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781594488078

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Oyeyemi has an eye for the gently perverse, the odd detail that turns the ordinary marvelously, frighteningly strange. ... Her stories begin in an orderly enough fashion within their framing narrative, but it rapidly becomes hard to tell whether it is Mary or Mr. Fox--or Oyeyemi herself--who is in control of a given tale as they spin farther and farther away from the 1930s England of their frame." Jenny Hendrix

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Startling, beautiful and stilted, Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi, constantly reminds that excellent writing may be found in a lot of places, but profoundly beautiful writing is rare and even more difficult to sustain. ... Each character is so superbly formed, and they are believable people whose habits of thought and language are so perfectly pitched and entertaining that they become instantly lovable, that is until we learn more about them." M. E. Collins

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The stories take imaginative, sometimes jarring tangents, and it's easy to wonder whether every detour drives the main story forward, but this may be part of Oyeyemi's conceit: No matter how fanciful the stories we create to explain the world may be, the reality of the world is infinitely more unpredictable and bizarre, and we like it that way--while we strive for neat edges, comfortable paths, we also find them dull." Tucker Shaw

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Whether it's a tragedy about a model whose father is dying after having committed a brutal act of violence, or a fairy tale about heart and body and aloneness, or a fascinating romp involving a prep school as we've never seen one before, or an unexpectedly moving story of a fox and his lover, Oyeyemi's writing is gorgeous and resonant and fresh. ... [The stories] create a mosaic between Fox and Foxe, a cracked portrait of love, all the while working as a refracted mirror of the relationship between husband and wife, which has been strained by the dominance of Mr. Fox's increasingly active fantasy world." Aimee Bender

StrangeHorizons.com HHHJ
"It is a very literary novel, about the process of writing and imagining, and part of it could be seen as being about what Mary is complaining about, the way women, and particularly beautiful women, are victims for readers' pleasure." Andy Sawyer

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Some of the stories are less satisfying than others, which sport a variety of unfulfilled allusions and their own austere puzzles. ... What [Oyeyemi] does not do--and doesn't seem to have any intention of doing--is make it all cohere." Kerry Fried

Critical Summary

"Mr. Fox is not an easy book to get a handle on," notes the critic from Strange Horizons, and all readers are apt to agree. In this postmodern puzzler that combines fantasy, magical realism, folktale, and metafiction; that deconstructs the classic French fairy tale Bluebeard; and that draws from other folk tales, Oyeyemi merges voices and stories until reality and fantasy merge. The stories written by Mr. Fox and Mary cover a wide geographical and temporal scope, involving a Middle Eastern country under Western occupation, a fox and his lover, domestic abuse, a vicious Harlequin killer, and much more. Though often the connections among the stories remain ambiguous, most are brilliantly conceived and highly rewarding inquiries into love and violence. For readers put off by the suspension of disbelief and logic required of this novel, follow the Denver Post's advice: "Suspend them."