Mr Fox - Helen Oyeyemi

Mr. Fox - Helen Oyeyemi

I read five books over the weekend (yay Bank Holidays!), which is a huge number for me at the moment, so I'm doing a review catch-up today. Starting with Helen Oyeyemi's Mr Fox.


Mr Fox is...tricky. It begins with Mary Foxe, a fictional character, dropping in on her author, St. John Fox (who is, of course, madly in love with her) to complain that all of his female characters die. "You're a serial killer," she says, "can you understand that?"


They begin to play a game: telling each other stories which all revolve around the charged relationship between the sexes. Intercut between their stories (and it's often hard to tell who's telling which story, and the stories are all richly felt and yet difficult to interpret) are sections following their "real-world" relations, the strain Mary's presence has on St. John's relationship with his wife Daphne. It's never exactly clear who we should be rooting for in this triangle of shifting power, partly because Oyeyemi is careful to show us every side of the story, and rights and wrongs are difficult to determine. (For my money, St. John comes off pretty badly.)


The thing about Mr Fox is that about halfway through what seems like it might be a one-note message repeated with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer (male characters killing off female characters is Sexism, and Very Bad, which, yes, it is, but this is not exactly news) suddenly morphs into something that's a lot richer and deeper and, yes, subtler. And I haven't worked it all out yet; but Oyeyemi is undoubtedly doing something very clever and very emotionally satisfying.


Be warned: it is a decidedly Literary book, telling a meta-narrative through form and metaphor rather than through plot (the blurb suggested, to me at least, a less outrageous version of Jasper Fforde's Eyre Affair, which it isn't at all). I enjoyed it, and I'd like to read it again one day, but it is the kind of thing you have to be in the right mood for.