White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi ★★★★★ (Spookathon)

Introduction – 10/13/19

I am so excited to be reading this via a physical copy for this years #spookathon as a book a don’t normally read. This book does that twice over. One: a new fantasy/horror writer that is a woman of color and two: not listening to the book. I’ll post updates as I go along! The “plan” is to read it on Monday, but I am prepared to spread it out over the week.

Update – 10/14/19
Sunday night (monday morning)

I kicked spookathon off about 3 hours late, but I was determined to get going before I went to sleep. I got all of 5 pages or so before just had to go to sleep. It certainly didn’t help that the start of this book was weird and hard to follow.

My late night led to a late morning along with a few things that came up. I finally got going around lunchtime. It was a little rough going at first, but I ended up getting a steady 4 hours of reading in. I definitely enjoyed it, but I struggled. The format of this is a bit abstract, and I really wish it did a better job setting it up so we know what we’re getting into. I only got ~75 (1/3) pages in before I took a short break.

Monday evening

I got nearly half way Monday night before I had to call it. I was at a point where I finally started to understand what was going on enough to really enjoy everything it has to offer. The story starts off with a very weird beginning. Miranda is missing. This is the opening line. What follows is a strange assortment of writings that begin to introduce you to the story, but they are so obscure that it is hard to follow what the hell is going on. Luckily, this section is very short. The problem is, my confusion leaked on into part one where things were moderately more sensible.

The story is told, for the most part, from specific perspectives. I now appreciate the subtly of these perspectives and how the story transitions from one to the other. It may just be me, but this is very disconcerting for a very long time. Without revealing any hard details, what I would say to any perspective readers is to take great care to identify “who” is our narrator. I found this particularly hard because of how characters referred to members of their family. Dad was called dad yet mother is referred to by her name. This left me very confused and unsure who exactly was narrating. Therefore, try and figure out the relationship of our characters as soon as possible. Make a point to clearly distinguish them in your mind. I think this will make it far easier to understand; specifically look for a change in narrator after each break.

Speaking of breaks, sometimes sentences are ended with the same word that starts the next paragraph. Rather than state it twice, it’s printed once in between the two paragraphs (See the Instagram post below). This is pretty easy to catch onto, but I know I was confused over at least one break and just kept going without fixating too much on the incongruity.

Tuesday night
Update 10/15/19

I’m writing these first few entries at the same time, taking care to reveal things as they revealed themselves to me. I am officially in the full swing of things, capable of jumping in and out of the story with ease. I began reading with the intent to finish part 1 (~40 pages), but once I did, I was too hooked to stop. I’m now ~15 pages into part 2 and I had to stop to talk about how much I am loving this book.

Specifically, I finally understand what the opening of the story was saying. I don’t know everything, but finally, over half way through, I finally can look back and understand what the hell is going on. Making that connection was immensely satisfying. I am a little slower than the average reader and others may connect the dots sooner; if not, give it time. It is worth it. I have another 20 pages I want to read tonight (finishing this chapter and leaving ~1/3 left). I only stopped to gush about how great it is once it all comes together. It is weird and dark, and I am here for it.

The story itself is about Miranda and her place in her family. I still have a good bit to learn, but so far we see an interesting generational connection of strange women. To understand why Miranda is missing, we have to understand her. To do that, we have to understand her family. It’s a series of strange events full of well meaning characters suffering from serious mental issues for whatever reason. I suspect these mental issue must connect somehow to whatever secret this family of women hold.

It’s Wednesday night, and I finally finished White is for Witching.

Finished 10/16/19

In the end, I think I loved this book. I’ve read a lot of weird stories, whether it’s a short story, a novella, or full novel. Every time, I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s left me wanting wishing the intriguing mystery was more clearly addressed by the end of the book. I think I’ve finally found a book that does that. The more I think about it, the more I wonder. There is still plenty left up to the imagination. I think that makes things especially curious. Overall, this walks the line between curious and confusing, and it certainly crosses it times. In the end, I think it comes together nicely.

There is a connection between our character Miranda, her family, and their house. We never get to see things from Miranda’s perspective, and it becomes a journey of understanding what’s going on in her head. I liked the multiple perspectives because they each offered a different take. It reminded me of Anne Rice’s first two Vampire Chronicles books that center on Lestat and Louis, each from from the other’s perspective. It completely redefined Lestat’s character getting inside his head. While I am desperate to get inside Miranda’s mind, I do feel as if we get close to it.

The magical realism of this novel is like the manifestation of her own mental illness. It is chaotic, disturbing, and nearly impossible to escape. One of the reviewers quoted on the cover of the book relates Oyeyemi to Shirley Jackson. They are distinctly different, but I certainly see the similarities as it pertains to mental health. While it is unsettling, it is still a gripping tale.

What begun almost as a chore, ended with me desperate to make it to the end, not for the sake of being done, but to consume everything this book has to offer. This is probably the first physical book I’ve read in years, and I’ve missed the feeling of anticipation as I go from one page to the next. I kept checking my watch, wondering how much longer before I lose the high of my current cup of coffee. Can I afford another one so late? Part of me didn’t care if it meant I get to finish this book, and that, I think, best sums up, my feelings of this book.

I’m stuck rating this between a 4.5 to 5 stars. Should the slug of the beginning outweigh my feelings in the end? Was this slug a necessary component to ensure such a strong reaction in the end. Personally, I don’t think so. I think you can go into this book, unspoiled but with the slightest bit of advice to help ground you. However, as much as I can appreciate the unique style, I don’t entirely understand why it’s necessary to confuse your reader, right down to grammar at the end or start of a paragraph. 4.5/5 stars, rounding up.

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