Saturday, May 13, 2006

I read The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi this past week, mostly on the subway. It's very good.

Oyeyemi was 18 when she wrote it.

Not sure how old she is now - she was born in 1984. I saw her speak and briefly met her at the PEN festival, which is where I got her book. She seemed nervous and little out of her league on stage (understandable, with Etgar Keret and four other much older authors surrounding her) but her book is totally impressive.

The novel is a ghost story, and I liked that, while it's clearly marketed and intended as a "literary novel" rather than a "genre novel" (don't whine and bitch at me about this distinction; I used quotes, see that?), it isn't, by the end, possible for the reader to legitimately think that "maybe it was all going on in the main character's mind - maybe the book is a sort of psychological metaphor. Wow!" I hate this.

(Despite my love of American Pyscho, which contains many supposedly real scenes that a lot of people believe only take place in Bateman's mind.)

There really is a ghost in the novel, or a demon, that follows a little girl home to Britain from Nigeria and begins tormenting her and hurting her family and friends. Oyeyemi doesn't flinch much as a writer, and I think the ability not to flinch (and I'm not talking at all about violence or sex or content, period; I'm talking about the ability to follow through on a chosen theme or idea or stylistic choice, follow through to the very end...
Denis Johnson does this in Jesus' Son and, not to mention this one book again and again, Ellis does it better than anyone in Pyscho...there are no authorial intrustions in that book, no moments where the author sort of whispers to the reader, "Hey, I know what I'm doing here, don't worry...see, I can describe things with literary flair, even though my protagonist wouldn't see them that way...and I know that murder is wrong, even if my protagonist doesn't..." etc.) is one of the most admirable qualities an artist can have.

In any case, it's a fine book. It isn't perfect, but it is convincing, and it stands on its own - one doesn't feel compelled to bring Oyeyemi's age into the equation when assessing the quality of her writing ('It's really good for a...").

Look, I wrote a whole post about a college-age author without mentioning the name of that plagiarist from New Jersey.


Trevor Johnson said...

I read this post on my Sidekick2 right before going to sleep. I thought, "The Icarus Girl," that's a cool name for a book, and wondered what themes she might have used.

After reading the part about the demon following the girl home, from one country to another, I was sullen. That's a damn good idea. I always feel a pang when I hear or read about an ingenious idea or plot twist, wishing it still undiscovered and myself sitting on it.

Then I thought some more about the demon following her home and tormenting her, and I imagined myself reading the book, how I would feel as the author described the demon stalking her, whispering to her through the cold silence of her bedroom.

I got this terrible chill in my bones. Then I wondered if the book really had this dark and helpless vibe, this feeling that stayed with me for a quarter of an hour while I tried to get to sleep.

NickAntosca said...

She's a very smart writer - her ideas and her craft are much more evolved than those of most of her peers. The book is not scary, though. Don't expect that. It is more...unnerving. Eerie.

Michelle said...

If you're interested, I interviewed Helen during the PEN's on my blog.