Friday, January 22, 2016

Book Review: Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Mr. Fox

Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Date of Publication: November 6, 2012
Pages: 336

A 19th Century illustration of Bluebeard and his wife by Gustave Dore (Wikipedia)

     Bluebeard is a French folk tale, believe to be based on a 15th century Breton nobleman named Gilles de Rais, a confessed serial killer or on the early Breton king Conomor the Accursed and his wife Typhine.   The legend involves multiple disappearing (and presumed murdered) wives, a forbidden basement room containing dismembered corpses and a suspicious new wife.  The Bluebeard legend has even been immortalized at Disney's Haunted Mansion:

Legend of Bluebeard at Disney's Haunted Mansion (Photo from Wikipedia)

   Helen Oyeyemi has reimagined the Bluebeard tale in her compulsively readable Mr. Fox.  The main character is an eccentric writer named Mr. Fox who is poorly matched with his wife Daphne.  Mr. and Mrs. Fox are very different and even seem totally incompatible at times.  Enter Mary Foxe, a character existing totally in Mr. Fox's imagination.  Mr. Fox becomes totally enamored with his imaginary friend as he writes his stories which are filled with gruesome and sometimes creative murders.  Mary Foxe becomes quite the distraction as Mr. Fox creates in her all of the traits he feels missing from his wife.  Daphne, noting changes in behavior in Mr. Fox assumes infidelity.

     Mr. Fox has all of the components of the Bluebeard fable, the suspicions and accusations and even the forbidden room (in this case, Mr. Fox's study).  The story line (such as it is) is not linear and is very confusing at times.  The fact that all of the main characters have more or less the same surname makes following the choppy story difficult.  The real star of Mr. Fox, however, is the writing which is pristine and unique and is what keeps the reader turning the pages.

     This is a book which I would not ordinarily have read.  It came as part of a Book Riot Quarterly Box and fulfilled the Book Riot 2015 Reading Challenge # 15:  Read a re-imagining of a classic tale.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and would recommend it for anyone who enjoys crisp writing.

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