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The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
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The Icarus Girl (2005)

by Helen Oyeyemi

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5362018,778 (3.35)23
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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
I am not sure what it was about this book that didn't engage me. I have to admire the fact that it was written when the author was in her last year at secondary school. And there is some very good writing in this novel. But somehow the book just misses the mark.

The premise is interesting, if familiar, and suited to magic realism. A highly sensitive and imaginative child divided between cultures (the Nigerian of her mother and white British of her father) goes visit her grandfather in Nigeria where she meets TillyTilly who may or may not be a figment of her imagination, who may or may not be a ghost or spirit of her dead twin. But the book's ending comes in a rush and doesn't resolve matters. It leaves you in mid-air. I have no problem with ambiguity, I wouldn't like magic realism if I had, but this ending did not work. I think that as a white Brit I probably needed more clarity about the Nigerian folk beliefs that lie behind the story.

The book is written very much from the point of view of Jess, although on a few occasions the viewpoint slips, for example becoming that of Jess' friend Shivs, before flicking back to Jess once more. Whilst having a single person point of view can strengthen a book and the reader's empathy with the main character, it can also cause problems. As Jess is alienated from her friends, teachers and parents, so I found my understanding of them tended to be limited and two dimensional. The other problem was that I lost empathy for Jess, who came over as a hysterical and possibly manipulative little girl.

I realize this review has been pretty negative so far but the book does have a lot going for it, including some lovely writing. The concept is ambitious and the subject matter - sisters, friends (imaginary and otherwise), twins, alienation and dual nationality - is promising (maybe the writer was trying to do too much as is so often the case with a first book) and overall I would give the book three stars, were this a blog that graded books. It's just that I have read some incredible books as part of this challenge and I would recommend you read them first. ( )
  ZEBrooks | Aug 22, 2013 |
And when he'd gone, the ibeji statue
(dull unbelieved-in wood)
guarded the corner for the little twin who needed its help
needed the forgiveness it brought
needed to win
more than ever.


This is the story of 8-year-old Jessamy Harrison, the troubled daughter of a Nigerian mother and an English father, and what happens when they go to Nigeria on holiday for the first time, to stay with her mother's family. I loved this wonderfully poetic book, and can't believe that the author wrote it while she was still at school. ( )
  isabelx | Mar 16, 2011 |
Very good. Reminded me a bit of The Yellow Wallpaper, Anansi Boys, and something else I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe The Salt Roads? Something else though, I think.
After stupidly going to bed at four o'clock in the morning last night, I stayed awake till 7 reading this. Then I wouldn't get up in the morning until I nearly had it finished. ( )
  mollydot | Jan 6, 2011 |
I really enjoyed this a lot. I took it with me the other day to my doctor's appointment and ended up reading two-thirds of it on the bus and while waiting. It was definitely a good choice for being stuck out for a long time with no other options. It sucked me in right away and I found it hard to put down.

Apparently the author wrote this while still at school, and it does show, but it's still overall really well-written. The biggest annoyance to me was POV slippage here and there and stuff like how the entire book is from Jess's POV except for one random paragraph from her friend's POV, and then the last two chapters are her parents' POV (that choice at least has a good reason; the paragraph in the friend's POV was unnecessary and tell-y).

I have another of her books on my wishlist and I'm looking forward to reading it. ( )
  kyuuketsukirui | Sep 17, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
''The Icarus Girl'' explores the melding of cultures and the dream time of childhood, as well as the power of ancient lore to tint the everyday experiences of a susceptible little girl's seemingly protected life. Deserving of all its praise, this is a masterly first novel -- and a nightmarish story that will haunt Oyeyemi's readers for months to come.
 
As Tilly's visits become more insinuating and her pranks more threatening, the mystery and suspense of the story grow. But as Oyeyemi toys with our perceptions, she also strains credulity and ''The Icarus Girl" gets a bit far-fetched and tedious after a while. It's a beautifully written and hauntingly memorable debut novel that gets mired in mysticism.
added by PhoenixFalls | editThe Boston Globe (Jun 20, 2005)
 
When older writers create child narrators, they often either romanticize childhood as a time when everything seemed possible, or cast it in an obscuring shadow -- "kids can be so cruel to each other" -- from the safety of middle age. But Oyemi writes about childhood as if she were not inventing but truly remembering it, not through the distancing lens of time, but as scary and magical as it really was.
 
How does Oyeyemi the wunderkind measure up to Oyeyemi the novelist? The answer is fitfully and somewhat frustratingly, in a book where potential is more in evidence than execution and where interesting themes never quite overcome rough, awkward prose.
 
It turns out that she herself is the heroine of an unalterable hurt narrative, her tale of herself and her imaginary friend, which twists into a new version of the doppelgänger myth, the myth of the fetch, the fateful twin. It's a story with an eye for the baroque state that childhood can be and on the damage that cultural fracture inflicts on everybody, no matter how young or old.
added by PhoenixFalls | editThe Guardian, Ali Smith (Jan 21, 2005)
 
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Alone I cannot be -
For Hosts - do visit me -
Recordless Company...

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This is all for Mary Oyeyemi
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and the other 'Tony, from before.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140007875X, Paperback)

Jessamy “Jess” Harrison, age eight, is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother. Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, she has a hard time fitting in at school. It is only when she visits Nigeria for the first time that she makes a friend who understands her: a ragged little girl named TillyTilly. But soon TillyTilly’s visits become more disturbing, until Jess realizes she doesn’t actually know who her friend is at all. Drawing on Nigerian mythology, Helen Oyeyemi presents a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles — both real and spiritual — in this lyrical and bold debut.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:23 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Jessamy "Jess" Harrison, age eight, is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother. Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, she has a hard time fitting in at school. It is only when she visits Nigeria for the first time that she makes a friend who understands her: a ragged little girl named TillyTilly. But soon TillyTilly's visits become more disturbing, until Jess realizes she doesn't actually know who her friend is at all. Drawing on Nigerian mythology, Helen Oyeyemi presents a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles -- both real and spiritual -- in this lyrical and bold debut.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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