Helen Oyeyemi is extraordinarily talented. She is also young and prolific -- her first novel was published before her 18th birthday -- and she doesn't always develop that talent to the full. In this extraordinary book, however, she fulfills all her great promise.
"The Opposite House" is the fictional autobiography of Maja, a young woman whose family have migrated from Nigeria to Cuba, and then to London. Enriched by three cultures, Maja is also left with inconsolable yearnings for what she has left behind. As she says of herself, "There's an age beyond which it is impossible to lift a child from the pervading marinade of an original country, pat them down with a paper napkin and then deep-fry them in another country ... I arrived here just before that age."
Moving effortlessly in and out of magical imaginings, Oyeyemi's narrative simply drags the reader along helplessly. Her language is poetic, often elliptical, sometimes generously lavish, always a delight. Some readers have complained that this is a dull read. I find that astonishing. To me, this is one of the most enjoyable books of the 21st Century. Others have found it difficult, which is perhaps the result of trying too hard to make sense of what is mystical in the novel, rather than simply experiencing it as something beguilingly crafted between poetry and narrative, partly understood, partly felt.
Like Maja herself, the book is full of dichotomies, opposites, a house with two doors that lead to distinct cultures. The smoky gods of Voodoo vie with the Catholic Trinity; Santeria confounds the hard-edged tenets of Marxism; Maja's best friend, Amy Eleni, is a Cypriot Lesbian, the father of Maja's child is Aaron, a white Jew born in Ghana -- Maja's world is always divided, and she is always yearning for the other half, always lost.
I recommend this beautiful book to all readers who are willing to let go and be pulled into new experiences. To be savoured and enjoyed and pondered over.
on 20 May 2012
My strongest memory about reading this book (6 years ago) is literally falling asleep during the process. I couldn't tell you anything about the story except I think there was a mother and a daughter. I kept waiting for something to happen or hook me in, but it didn't. It is one of the most tedious books I have read.
Like the other reviewers, I enjoyed the Icarus Girl, so was disappointed as well as bored. However, Oyeyemi is a good writer with (excepting this instance!) very interesting ideas. Although the Icarus Girl remains her most accessible novel, both White is for Witching and Mr. Fox are worth trying if you don't mind a little experimentation with style.
on 8 November 2007
I thought that The Icarus Girl was a wonderful book, so I was really looking forward to reading another book from such a talented author. However, The Opposite House for me was a huge disappointment. The only positive thing I can find to say about it is that Oyeyemi has clearly a way with words. But the story is boring, the characters are neither interesting nor believable, the use of poetic imagery excessive (while there are some wonderful metaphors and similes in the book, some are downright ridiculous - somebody needs to tell the writer that sometimes less is more). Overall, in my opinion this is a pretentious, boring mess.
I'm an avid reader, and in my whole life there are only 4 books I decided not to finish; this was one, with only 50 pages left I decided I couldn't face spending one more minute reading it.
on 3 November 2014
I find it difficult to concentrate on this book. I am sometimes confused as to who the character is: herself, Mother, Granny ?
However the characters do emerge, are interesting, and I look forward to the conclusion.