Women in Horror Reads: ‘White is for Witching’ by Helen Oyeyemi

From the Publisher:

“There’s something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England. Grand and cavernous with hidden passages and buried secrets, it’s been home to four generations of Silver women—Anna, Jennifer, Lily, and now Miranda, who has lived in the house with her twin brother, Eliot, ever since their father converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, a pull over one another that reaches across time and space, and when Lily, Miranda’s mother, passes away suddenly while on a trip abroad, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. An eating disorder starves her. She begins hearing voices. When she brings a friend home, Dover’s hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed. At once an unforgettable mystery and a meditation on race, nationality, and family legacies, White is for Witching is a boldly original, terrifying, and elegant novel by a prodigious talent.”

Okay, I’m going to get this out of the way right now….this book is WEIRD, dude!

Before any Helen Oyeyemi fans come for me, did I say weird was bad????

This novel is one of the most effective modern Gothic stories that I have ever read.  It is not a huge book, but it very rich in characters.  By the end, you feel like you really know the characters, and you feel for them.  I especially felt for Miranda, who is in this spiral that she can’t control.  Some of the descriptions of what she was eating, and how she hid her illness were absolutely heartbreaking.

I don’t want to say much beyond the description of the book for fear of spoiling it, so I’ll just tell you what I thought.

This is definitely a novel for people who like literary horror.  The language and style of chapter breakup is interesting and smart, but this is a book to save for a cold winter weekend when you have nothing to do but curl up with your hot cup of tea and your blanket.  It is a heavy book.  This is not a book to read at the beach, or when you are easily distracted.  This is a book that you make time for.  I actually read the first thirty pages or so and then put it down for a few days of days, and by the time I picked it up again, I felt the need to start over.  There are a lot of familial connections established right away, and I felt I didn’t have them straight after a hiatus.

There are tonal shifts in the abrupt changes in point of view throughout the novel and they are very effective.  Sometimes it takes a minute to figure out that the person speaking has changed.  Whenever this happened, it was always at points in the story where a character was also disoriented, and it made for an almost interactive experience as you tried to figure out what was going on, much like the characters in these scenes.  It is a story heavily rooted in identity, and it is designed to make you feel as uncomfortable in your own skin as the characters do.

It is definitely not a traditional story, but is a great read for anyone who loves classic literature, especially gothic literature.  If Emily Bronte were with us today, she would approve.

Oh, and if you are at all disturbed by mannequins, avoid.

Next Women in Horror Read: the haunted house tale ‘The Grip of It’ by Jac Jemc

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