Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi – ⭐
Personally, that was a baffling waste of time with a few nicely written lines. This one star is more “I didn’t like it” than “it was bad.” Definitely people who will enjoy this, just… Not me.
Recommended: Not really, but some people would def like it
Stay away if: you like to understand what the characters are (human? fairy? are they even ALIVE?), or what they are doing, or what they are talking about, or what is happening at any point in the story
Go for it if you know you like magical realism that is very ambiguous and leaves almost everything up to interpretation. This might also be good for book groups or buddy reads, so long as you have people who are willing to talk about every chapter as you go to try to figure out wtf you’re reading about
Perdita decides to finally find out what the deal is with her mother and grandmother’s homeland, which they never talk about and accordingly to the rest of the world, doesn’t exist. Cue mom-Harriet’s baffling narration about growing up on a farm where all they could afford to eat was gingerbread, her encounter with a strange girl named Gretel, and suddenly being whisked away to the city to capitalize on her youth to make some money (not quite prostitution, no worries). If Perdita was looking for answers, she didn’t really get any.
I don’t have a lot of thoughts that are coherent, because so much of this story was a muddled “what is happening” for me. I can’t even identify who was technically the narrator of most of the story, because it clearly WASN’T Harriet, despite it being shaded that way. Anyway… this was a struggle for me. I kept going, because by the time I realized it wasn’t going to get any clearer, I was like 75% done and figured I’d just wrap it up.
Simple things are questions, that I feel like should not be questions:
– What are the dolls?? They’re like, alive plant-doll hybrids?
– What’s the deal with the gingerbread? Is it poisoned, or.. imbued with magical forces??
– At one point they said something like, when they arrived out of Druhástrana, they thought their bones were melted and they were poured out of a container like a vat of custard. I can’t even begin to understand what’s happening there.
– Am I supposed to take things literally or not??? Dx
The one saving grace of this story, for me, was the way it was written. As is well acknowledged, Oyeyemi is able to give a very poetic style with a heavy focus on imagery and analogy. While this is quite beautiful to read at times, it also makes it quite difficult to actually understand what the intended meaning is. For me, that was far too often the case.
This is mainly a story just about creating characters. Pages and pages dedicated to the smallest aspects of each character, no matter how fleeting their appearance in the story may be. And yet at the same time, we are denied any clear answers about who these people actually are and what they are doing. There’s even one conversation relayed between Harriet and her father that deliberately does not specify who is speaking which lines. The idea is that they are so alike either would have said the same thing, but it’s also a perfect example of the endless ambiguity that you trudge through 400+ pages for.
So… maybe if I had been reading this with people I could discuss it with, it would have gone better. As it is, I feel like I would need to analyze theme and symbolism and read some analytical essays to even understand the basic plot of what happened. Frankly, I’m not willing to do that with this. I just don’t do well with magical realism sometimes. I gave this one a bit of a stretch shot, but in this case it didn’t go well. Back to my fantasy and contemporary YA romance for a while, to cleanse my palate, thank you! ☺
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