READ THIS BOOK. READ IT. IF YOU LIKE FAIRY TALES: READ IT. IF YOU LIKE MARGARET ATWOOD: READ IT. IF YOU LIKE BOOKS AT ALL: READ IT. YOU WILL LIKE IT. I PROMISE.
I decided to read this book after a quotation from it was featured on an aptly named and fabulous tumblog: Slaughterhouse 90210, which combines screen captures from TV shows and mashes them up with quotations from literature.
Something just clicked with me when I read the quotation. The title popped off the tiny screen of my iPhone: MR. FOX.
Right away I Googled the title, the authors name which also has something strangely enchanting about it. (And trust me, after reading Mr. Fox, I can say she is a truly enchanting writer. I’m eager to read her other works).
I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson’s claymation version of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’m also a big fan of British Folk Rock. Mr. Fox is a band and a song and an album from that genre/era. It retells the same folk tale/fairy tale that Oyeyemi retells in her novel: Mr. Fox, the English version of Bluebeard.
The song sticks to closely to the traditional telling. A girl gets engaged to Mr. Fox and she doesn’t trust him, so she breaks off the engagement. She follows him into the woods one night, where she witnesses him assaulting/murdering her predecessor. She outfoxes Mr. Fox and he runs away scared.
Oyeyemi retells this story in a very unique way. The main story arc follows St. John Fox, a prolific mystery writer, who often slaughters his heroines in some grisly manner. And Mary Foxe, the imagined heroine, who longs to come to life, so that she can confront St. John about his habit of being a literary Bluebeard. They become locked in a battle of the wills, and in a love triangle between Miss Foxe, Mr. Fox and Mrs. Daphne Fox, St. John’s third wife.
However, that is just a glimpse into what this novel is about. It is constructed more as a series of short stories, with interludes including the 3 main characters. The short stories run off in a dozen different directions, but seem to stay connected to Mr. Fox and Ms Foxe, as if the stories are the different mental Olympics they must partake in — in order to fall in love, in order to become whole. The short stories include tales about the rake Reynardine (another character from folklore) and personal mythology about the Yourba people (Oyeyemi, herself born in Nigeria) and many more, all delightful, heartbreaking and complex.
It took my time with the book, as I like to do. I let myself savor each segment, story, whatever you want to call it and kind of let myself live with the characters inside my brain for awhile. When I got to the portion that was quoted on Slaughterhouse 90210, it jumped out at me. Perhaps this is why I excel in my literature courses, but I will admit, not all works of fiction or poetry are so easily digestible. It takes incredible skill and several revisions. Furthermore, Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox is a nice break from reading a semesters worth of Modern Poetry
It takes a certain sort of magic to make words jump off the page like that and to stick in one’s memory so deeply. This is part of why fairy tales have endured for centuries, they are enchanting and easy to recount to impressionable audiences, like children. As a kid, I begged my parents to tell me fairy tales before I went to bed, but they didn’t know any.
Oyeyemi satiates this ancient desire for storytelling, combining tradition with personal history and mythology. Her words are magical and contemporary and stick in your memory. So just read it.