Book 28 of 2014: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Oh, but this book was magical. Magical in a kind of way that makes me want to spell that word with a k. Dark and dangerous and beautiful and weird.
It provoked very strong love-it-or-hate-it reactions on Goodreads, which is not terribly surprising, given how non-linear and impressionistic it is. A lot of people didn’t “get it.” And a good number of people had no patience for the central character, a fragile young woman with a rare eating disorder (pica) which compels her to eat stuff that isn’t food, like chalk.
It reminds me a bit of Duplex, actually. Both Kathryn Davis in Duplex and Oyeyemi here are writing fairy tales, and they’re also writing about bodies, female bodies, torn up and chewed up and remade and unmade again. And, you know, the female body is often the object of the fairy tale, the prize to be won, so perhaps in order to write about what that’s like, they have to rip out the seams of the tale itself, and stitch it back together with other scraps.
I’m not going to say it’s sexist not to be interested in that project—but I do think it’s a feminist project. And I do see sexism in the comments from readers who react to this young female character with a sort of “oh, you think your eating disorder makes you special, but you’re not” kind of attitude.
Not all stories are for you. That’s fine. But the stories that aren’t for you are still worth telling.