White is for Witching - Helen Oyeyemi
Miranda Silver has pika, an eating disorder that compels her to eat foreign objects (chalk, in Miranda’s case). Miranda -or Miri as she’s called throughout the book- lives with her twin brother, Eliot and her widowed father, Luc. They live together in a “hamunted” ancestral home that they have converted into a bed and breakfast. The house, one of the narrators of the book, is very specific about who it wants living and working in it. It seems to scare off hired help of different races.
Miri goes off to college and Eliot moves away for an internship. But the house seems to be calling to Miri and making her struggle more and more with her eating disorder. But Miri vanishes and it is up to us to decide what happened.
Okay guys, real talk? I had to give myself some time to digest this book before I fully understood it. I honestly didn’t get it at first. Helen Oyeyemi is an amazing author. Her prose is second to none and her descriptions are hauntingly beautiful. But this story went off the rails for a bit and it took me until a few days after I finished the book to figure out where the story got back on track.
We find out right away that Miri goes missing, i’m not spoiling anything for you there. We hear about it from all four of our narrators. The issue I had with so many narrators is that I had a hard time telling who was narrating when they switched from paragraph to paragraph, which they did a lot. Each narrator had a different tone, so I could pick up on it pretty quickly. But I did have to go back and reread a few lines here and there because I didn’t realize someone else was speaking.
Because we know how the story ends from the very beginning, there weren’t a ton of surprises throughout the book. Even knowing where it was going, I was never bored because this is the type of horror that I long for. It’s the type that you really aren’t sure what’s real and what all is in the characters’ heads.
When Miri goes off to college and meets Ore, a nigerian woman who was adopted by a white family, you get this really beautiful coming-of-age part of the story. But when the book starts focusing solely on Ore, that is where I felt that the train went off the tracks a bit. I know that there is a lot said in this story about race and displacement, but I honestly think that the story could have still had that same message without the entire focus on Ore.
Now, like I said, this story goes into race and displacement. I don’t think the Oyeyemi was going for a story about racist ghosts haunting a B&B and scaring off people of color. I think she was trying to make more of a statement about feeling like you don’t belong. Ore doesn’t feel like she belongs at the college she goes to. None of the housekeepers ever feel like they truly belong at the B&B. Eliot feels like he belongs at school but wasn’t given the chance. Miri’s feelings of displacement are intense and, at times, she contemplates suicide by way of not eating. The author also talks a lot about refugees living in Dover and how they stay together and she often hints that it’s because they don’t have a place that they fit in.
This story is definitely a gothic horror. It is based around this giant house that has The Haunting of Hill House vibes. The house even has a graveyard directly across the street. The neat thing about this book is that no matter what location certain parts of the story take place, it always feels claustrophobic. It always feels like this giant Victorian is looming right behind you and casts a massive shadow over everything that happens in the book.
I’m giving this book 5 stars. When I initially finished it, I was teetering at 4 stars but, as I said earlier, I really needed to sit down and think on this one so I could judge it clearly. There is a lot going on in this book and there is a lot to mull over when you finish reading it. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes gothic horror, elegant prose and open-ended hauntings.