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Review: White is for Witching - Helen Oyeyemi

Updated: May 5, 2019

Genre: Literary Fiction, Gothic Horror Published: Picador, June 2009 My Rating: 2/5 stars

“ Please tell a story about a girl who gets away.”

So... I’m not too sure how to rate this book...

I can’t say I enjoyed it but to say it was a bad book would be equally as big a lie. This is probably not going to be a coherent review, but more “thoughts on paper”, so feel free to skip this one if you’re looking for a proper review.

This was confusing, yet somehow entrancing, strange, yet somehow familiar and had little plot as far as I could descern. That all pales in comparison to my dominant feeling about this novel: White is for Witching freaked me right the hell out... To the point where I struggled a little to even finish it.’

What begins as the story of a haunted house, soon develops into the story of a haunted girl. A girl obsessed with grief, obsessed with her own body and its flaws, and wanting that body to become a ghost itself… Protagonist Miranda suffers from Pica, a rare eating disorder that leads to an uncontrolable compulsion to eat unedible objects, often combined with an aversion to eating actual food. I’m not personally familiar with this disorder: I’ve only seen it once in my years as a medical student and that alone was quite an impactful experience. I am however, from my personal enviroment, more familiar with other forms of eating disorders, and have to commend Helen Oyeyemi for the way she described this experience, which is part of why this freaked me out so much. Although I want to give credits to Oyeyemi for describing such an unconventional disorder in a way that still managed to strike a personal note with me, I also suspect that there may have been other motives at play. At times it felt to me like the author used picked this specific disorder for its creep-factor, with the purpose to make the reader uncomfortable. This in turn made me uncomfortable, as I don’t agree with the use of real mental illnesses to this effect.

The subject matter isn’t the only unconventional aspect of White is for Witching: the style and layout themselves are often a bit “off” as well, only exaggeraing that feeling of unease in the reader. Personally, I don’t quite like when authors do this: I like my layouts plain and “readable”, but in this case I think it did match the story quite well.

If you like the type of “stream of consciousness” novels, that don’t necessarily have a coherent plot, if you want an experience more than a story, or if you desperately want a modern novel in the vain of Shirley Jackson: this might be for you. If you think this all sounds a little to abstract and vague: skip it, for sure. If you or someone close to you currently struggles with an eating disorder, perhaps also give this one a pass. Again; even though this disease doesn’t affect me personally, the description of mental-illness and eating disorders in this novel freaked me out a bit.

This was my first experience with Oyeyemi’s writingstyle, and I can’t quite decide if I’m more put-off, or intrigued, or equal parts of both. I’m at the very least curious to see how her style will fit in her other novels. I’m still very interested in Gingerbread and Boy, Snow, Bird and plan on picking them up in the near future. Perhaps that will help me make a little more sense of my thoughts on this novel as well. In the mean-time: feel free to let me know your thoughts. I’m curious to hear what others thought of this.

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