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The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi (thoughts)

August 4, 2011

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

24 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2011 11:52 am

    This sounds fantastic. On to the wishlist it goes! I like that you say it’s less experimental; I’m finding I like experimental less and less these days.

  2. Heqit permalink
    August 4, 2011 1:49 pm

    I’m cheering here — I read this a few years ago and Helen Oyeyemi immediately shot to the top of my “Awesome Living Authors to Follow” List. In fact, reading her led me to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whom I adore as much as you do. So glad to see you exploring the rest of Oyeyemi’s works. As much as I loved this novel and White is for Witching, The Opposite House is my favorite of her books. It reminded me a lot of Gaiman’s Anansi Boys — not that Oyeyemi’s writing is like Gaiman’s at all, but that I think the two novels would be excellent companions (and perhaps foils) for each other. I keep meaning to re-read them both together. And since you love Gaiman too, I can’t wait to hear what you think of The Opposite House.

    It just makes me so happy to think of how many years of productivity Oyeyemi and Adichie both should have in front of them (deo volente). I love old books, but it’s rather nice to have a few favorite authors who, well, aren’t dead yet.

  3. August 4, 2011 2:27 pm

    I tried White is for Witching but never made it all the way through. I’d like to try another of her books and this one looks promising. Besides, I love a ghost story.

  4. August 4, 2011 3:46 pm

    Oooh. Another new-to-me author to try… your blog (and your comments on mine) are incredibly dangerous for my TBR pile…. (But then I think again of your post about the tbr piile recently and my stress levels drop…!)


  5. August 4, 2011 4:27 pm

    I wanted to try Oyeyemi’s work but I really hate ghost stories. Her latest novel, Mr. Fox, has just been released in June. I’m going to try that one. Thought you and your readers might like to know about it. Take care.

  6. August 4, 2011 5:20 pm

    I liked this pretty well when I read it several years ago. (It’s part of the my pre-blogging book black hole, in which I remember whether I liked something remember nothing about it.) I believe Mr Fox is being released in the U.S. this fall.

  7. August 4, 2011 5:57 pm

    I read this one Before the Blog (which means I don’t remember exactly when) and really liked it. So I was disappointed by my frustration with White is for Witching, because I’d had a good experience with the author. Still haven’t read her middle book, though.

  8. August 4, 2011 6:02 pm

    The Icarus Girl is the only Oyeyemi book I’ve read so far. It probably took me nearly 100 pages before I got into it and then I couldn’t put it down until I finished. I think I read this before I began book blogging as well. You’ve reminded me that I need to read the rest of her novels. I hope their as eerie and quirky as Icarus Girl.

  9. August 4, 2011 6:38 pm

    More? You liked this one more than White Is for Witching? I liked it so much less, I’ve thought each of Helen Oyeyemi’s books was degrees of magnitude better than the book that came before. Hence my extreme excitement about Mr. Fox! I liked The Icarus Girl, but I think Oyeyemi’s writing has improved massively since then.

  10. August 5, 2011 1:58 am

    I haven’t read Oyeyemi yet. I remember when The Icarus Girl came out I was hugely sceptical…because she wrote it when she was in high school and published it just before she went to Oxford University. I thought it was one of those over-hyped written by a teen genius things. But she definitely has proved herself and all my friends love her. Must rescue one of her books from the TBR. :-) Apparently her new novel, Mr Fox, is excellent too – Nic had a review copy.

  11. August 5, 2011 6:57 am

    Oh this sounds really interesting.

  12. August 5, 2011 10:40 am

    Seems perfect for the upcoming RIP Challenge. Hope that the characterization of the smart child was good. I always feel that whenever most writers use it it’s just an excuse to get children to act/talk/think like adults. A sort of easy way out. You’d probably have pointed it out if this was the case. I’ll make a note of it :)

  13. FleurFisher permalink
    August 5, 2011 2:03 pm

    I’m so pleased you liked this one. I read it a long time ago, more from curiosity than from thinking it was my sort of book, and it was definitely love.

  14. August 5, 2011 8:37 pm

    Lovely review, Eva…I still haven’t read this or The Opposite House though I have them both, and I loved White is for Witching. Plus I met Oyeyemi once at a Book Expo and she was so nice. I’m only slightly jealous… ;)

    Surprisingly enough, I’ve read all of your suggested companion reads! Loved them. Of course I adore Ray Bradbury, but this is one of my favourites, especially for the description of the library :) And I also LOVE the Beagle. It is simply wonderful. You’ve put me in the mood for a good ghost story.

    But don’t read the Will Storr book when you’re alone in the house late at night. Just saying.

  15. August 5, 2011 9:57 pm

    I’m so glad you liked this one. I picked this one up after you recommended White is for Witching and I couldn’t get it right away at the library. I will definitely read more of her work after reading this one!

  16. Melissa permalink
    August 5, 2011 10:02 pm

    This is on my library list. Think I might have to bump it up higher now. ;)

  17. August 6, 2011 3:12 pm

    I still haven’t read anything by Oyeyemi even though she’s been on my wishlist for years! Really must remedy that. I think I’d like to start with this one.

  18. August 6, 2011 3:59 pm

    Oyeyemi is an author I really want to try… she sounds quirky, but with substance. And you should get excited, because she does have a new book coming out (one that pokes fun at the sexist nature of fairytales!) in October! I was going to review it for BookPage, but alas, due to some complications, I’m going to be covering some other books instead. But it looks goooood!

  19. August 10, 2011 11:37 am

    Wow, I’ve never read anything by Helen Oyeyemi but I definitely want to now. as this is her debut, I’ll make sure to start with this one. :)

  20. August 10, 2011 6:54 pm

    *happy dance*!! Knowing how our fiction tastes often diverge I was worried you wouldn’t like this one as much as I did. I read it back when it first came out and absolutely loved it. I have yet to read another by Oyeyemi, though I have White is for Witching on my Kindle and have started it a few times. I know I will love it already but just hasn’t been the right time yet, I should try again soon!

  21. August 11, 2011 8:25 am

    Interesting how you’d compare the ending of this to The Little Stranger! I loved that ending, so maybe I’d like this book too. TillyTilly sounds like a total creeper, just sayin’.

  22. August 15, 2011 12:46 pm

    Thanks for reminding me that I should move her books up the mental TBR list. Sounds wonderful!

  23. August 17, 2011 8:48 am

    I read White is for Witching a couple of years ago and LOVED it. I have been meaning to get around to The Icarus Girl. Your review has reminded me and I believe I shall put it on this year’s R.I.P. reading list.

  24. August 23, 2011 10:47 am

    I really liked this, and then really didn’t like White is for Witching (had NO idea what was going on most of the time) – basically her third novel took everything I liked in her first novel to extremes, and they were too extreme for me. I’m intrigued to see what I’ll think of The Opposite House (which is on my tbr pile)

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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