Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

The book begins with Boy, a young girl stuck at home with her abusive rat-catcher parent. When she takes off and forges a new life for herself in Flax Hill, the birth of her daughter, Bird, sheds new light on the origins of her husband’s family. Snow, his first daughter was white and mesmerizing in her beauty. Bird is something quite different.

But the Whitmans aren’t the only family with secrets and an ability to see ‘technically impossible things’ (p237), especially in mirrors. Catching your reflection, seeing it step beyond the frame, missing your reflection completely, these are all possibilities for Boy, Snow and Bird and trying to understand what that means is part of the fairytale mythstery of the novel. The Pied Piper, Snow White, The Nightingale, The Golden Bird, Cinderella, Ananzi stories and more old tales weave their magic into these technically ordinary lives.

Apart from reminding us that prejudice is laughable and despicable, whether it is based on gender, race or anything else, Oyeyemi also suggests that magic and metamorphosis are always there if only you choose to look for them.

‘… a whole lot of technically impossible things are always trying to happen to us, appear to us, talk to us, show us pictures, or just say hi, and you can’t pay attention to all of it, so I just pick the nearest technically impossible thing and I let it happen.’ (Bird writes in a letter to her sister, Snow, p237-238)

I enjoyed reading Boy, Snow, Bird. I read it with a kind of avarice, mostly because the fairytale weave was so pleasing to follow, searching out different threads, unpicking the origins of certain plot lines. I would, perhaps, have liked to feel more bound in these characters lives, but even watching them from the surface was fascinating.

Next week I’m reading Satin Island by Tom McCarthy. If you haven’t yet seen my interview with Guy Ware on Author QH, do have a look. He says some interesting things about the world of work and how to create thematic and stylistic tension in your work.