Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

"In the old days in Nigeria, people were kind of scared of twins -- some people still are. Traditionally, twins are supposed to live in three worlds: this one, the spirit world and the Bush, which is a sort of wilderness of the mind." Sarah Harrison explains this to her eight-year-old daughter, Jessamy, after Jess learns that she had a twin sister who died at birth. Jess is a precocious child who has been advanced a year at her school in London and is having great trouble adapting to her new class.

While on a visit to her extended family in Nigeria, Jess makes friends with another girl, Tilly Tilly. When Jess returns home to England, she's delighted to find Tilly Tilly has moved there. It takes a while before Jess realizes that nobody else can see Tilly Tilly, but that doesn't mean she isn't dangerous. Things get pretty spooky!

The Icarus Girl is a challenging book that generated great discussion at my book group last night. There are so many mysterious things, from the choice of title (why refer to a Greek myth? Is Jess the Icarus girl, or is that Tilly Tilly?) to the ambiguous ending. (I thought the final poem made things clear, but not everyone agreed with me.) I'm really looking forward to Oyeyemi's latest book, Mr. Fox.

Readalikes: For another story about twin girls with joint British/Nigerian heritage, try 26a by Diana Evans. Nigerian author Ben Okri's The Famished Road is narrated by a spirit child.

No comments: