The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi (thoughts)
As I’ve mentioned before, I read my first Oyeyemi last year and adored it. As White is for Witching is her third novel, I was a bit nervous when I began The Icarus Girl, her debut. What if it wasn’t as good, if it felt a bit amateurish? Within a couple of pages, I knew I’d been silly to worry, and by the end of the book I realised that I actually loved this one more. I’m always on the lookout for a good ghost story, but I’m quite picky about their execution. The Icarus Girl is now on my short list of wonderful ghost books!
It centers around Jessamy, a young Nigerian-British girl who lives in England and is a bit odd. On a vacation to Nigeria, she meets TillyTilly, another little girl, one who has some neat magical abilities, and who seems just as desperate for a friend. She’s quite sad when she has to go home, so imagine Jessamy’s surprise when TillyTilly shows up in England! But TillyTilly doesn’t always seem to have Jessamy’s best interests at heart…
This book is so pitch-perfect! The tone is always a bit ‘off,’ which keeps everything creepy feeling. Even if Jessamy doesn’t immediately see Tilly’s dark side, the reader can read between the lines (not being eight years old, lol). And Oyeyemi ratchets up the tension as the story progresses, which made me desperate to keep reading to see what would happen to Jessamy. Speaking of which, she’s presented with just the right mix of empathy and ambiguity. She’s a gifted child, very smart (she’s been skipped a grade) but without much in the way of social graces. I imagine knowing her in real life (especially if I were her parent) she’d drive me a bit batty, but since we’re in her head, we understand the cause of her tantrums. I loved the open question of whether Tilly was ‘real’ and her origins; I think the ambiguous ending worked better here than in The Little Stranger (although, to be fair, I went in to this expecting ambiguity, while my previous Waters reads made me think there’d be a neat, twisty ending in store). Oh, and the mix of Nigerian folklore with British ghost traditions was the icing on the cake. :D The pages really flew by for me; I was thinking this might almost be a novella, but Amazon has it listed at 350 pages!
As you can imagine, I’d highly recommend this one; it’s much less experimental than White is for Witching (the perspective stays with Jessamy the whole story), so if that one frustrated you do give The Icarus Girl a go. I hope Oyeyemi has a new novel in the works: right now I only have The Opposite House left!
Suggested Companion Reads
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Features a similar creepy feel, unreliable narrator, and ambiguity as to how much is real and how much is in the narrator’s head.)
- Will Storr vs. the Supernatural by Will Storr (If you’re in the mood for some spine-tingling ghost-related nonfiction.)
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (Unreliable narrator, questionably supernatural events, early twentieth century style.)
- The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Not as creepy, but a fun modern pastiche of the classic British ghost story.)
- A Fine and Private Place by Peter Beagle (Unfortunately I didn’t review this, but it’s one of my favourite ghost stories ever; set in a cemetary and featuring both non-scary ghosts and a reclusive man who’s still alive and talks to them, it’s so beautifully human.)
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Also has a child protagonist, a boy this time, and is sooo scary!)