Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Finished on: 20 January 2017
Where did I get this book: A kindle purchase
Monthly Motif Challenge Read: diversify your reading
When we first fall in love, the initial infatuation phase is all about the dopamine. The craving for the object of affection; the withdrawal when they’re not around; the obsession. It’s the same hormone that causes addiction.
But then, all being well, we move on to a deeper attachment and trust. This is where the oxytocin comes into play. Comfort and calm. It’s the one breastfeeding mothers are flooded with (where the love is so great it lasts through the horrendous obstacles of sleepless nights and bleeding nipples…)
Reading White Is For Witching is sometimes a frustrating experience. Parts of this book are so opaque they’re practically a brick wall. Or they should be. I found myself wondering on occasion why I was enjoying it so much; why I still looked forward to curling up with this story, even in the sections where I could barely tell what was going on. And then I realised. I am in love.
Oyeyemi and I have moved beyond the dopamine phase, and on to oxytocin. I trust her. I feel safe in her hands. And I will follow her anywhere.
This is the fourth of her books I have read in less than a year. The way she writes about women who know themselves inside out, their unspoken self-esteem of steel, and their unique and unconventional relationships with each other, is nothing short of wonderful. I find the blend of myth, folklore and very practical reality in her writing completely irresistible. She has got under my skin, and I will read anything by her safe in the knowledge that, even if she is occasionally obtuse or exasperating, she is always worth it.
White Is For Witching tells the story of twins Miranda and Eliot, whose mother has recently died leaving them with their father in the huge haunted house where they run a bed and breakfast, on the white cliffs of Dover. The resident spirits of the house are four generations of women, including Miranda who moves between the living and the dead. They all mingle into the spirit of the house itself, which narrates sections of the story (these parts are a lot less weird that this sounds).
When Miranda moves away to study at Cambridge university, we get some of the most satisfying sections of the book as she meets and starts a relationship with fellow student Ore. The gradual burgeoning of Ore’s love for Miranda, who remains annoyingly distant, is beautiful.
Miranda has a condition called pica, meaning she only wants to eat things that are not food. In her case chalk and plastic. She is physically fading away to nothing, as well as existing on the edge of the world of the living (frequently stepping over into the world of her dead foremothers). Ore joins Eliot and the twins’ father in their efforts to tie Miranda to this world, and get her to eat some proper food.
The coexistence of the living and the dead, and the mythical and the real, works brilliantly well in this book. This is not where the confusion arises; in fact this is all impressively seamless. The frustrations emerge where Oyeyemi is describing Miranda’s fate. But to be honest, despite being the central figure of the whole plot, she is the least interesting thing about it, so I wasn’t too distressed that this is ambiguous.
It is a real and amazing thing to fall in love with a writer. This person, because of what they have created, means so much to me. It is nothing to be embarrassed about: in many cases these feelings outlast, and are more reliable than, those with actual partners. They are certainly enriching, and huge contributors to a life well-lived.
These relationships are also polygamous. Oyeyemi joins Hilary Mantel, Alexandre Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson and many others… I love her. And not just in the way of the first throes of infatuation. It’s true that I do have that craving for the dopamine rush of pleasure that reading her books brings. But more than this, I am comforted and calmed by her existence, and the knowledge that her writing will be around to keep me company forever.