Susan reviews White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi is a surreal, lyrical horror novel that follows generations of women haunted by their racist, xenophobic house, which wants to keep them all inside its walls forever. The story loops forwards and backwards through time to tell their stories and the house’s.

The language and imagery are beautiful, and work together well to create the surreal atmosphere of this house – to the point where when it switches point of view to someone who’s never been to the house, it’s like a breath of fresh of air. White is for Witching is excellent at leaving things unspoken and telling the shapes of stories between scenes; relationships, horrors, explanations, all told through gaps and the things people don’t say, which works so well for a narrative where reality is a hard thing to pin down. The sense of menace that works under the layers of the story are really well done, especially the scenes where it actually bubbles to the surface.

The characters can sometimes feel completely unknown to a reader, which is a function of the narrative and its spaces. I never felt like I understood Miranda or Elliot, but I don’t think I was ever really supposed to. Ore is the point of view character who makes most sense, the one who is not actually invested in this house or its inheritance, and she doesn’t show up until halfway through – that breath of fresh air I mentioned! And the way that the narrative loops and twists through all of the characters’ stories without snarling is really well done.

White is for Witching is very well-written, beautiful, and strange. It’s not a book that I would normally have picked up, and I’m not sure that it’s one I completely understood. But I absolutely recommend it if you like surreal literary horror.

[Caution warning: eating disorders (specifically pica), racism, xenophobia, children in danger.]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found as a contributing editor for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business, or a reviewing for SFF Reviews and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. She brings the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Danika reviews White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

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I’m not sure I know how to summarize White is for Witching. It’s a bit of a haunted house story, sort of postmodern, Gothic-esque, definitely unsettling. It follows the story of Miranda, who at the beginning of the novel has disappeared. Her twin brother and the house she grew up in narrate the events that lead up to her disappearance, with her girlfriend getting the occasional paragraph of her perspective as well. (Yes, the house narrates part of the story. That tells you a lot about the kind of book this is.)

Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say about this one. The writing is beautiful, but I just didn’t really connect to the book as a whole. The only character I really found interesting was Ore, who doesn’t have a huge role to play in the story. In fact, most of her scenes are Ore and Miranda’s dysfunctional relationship, which left me disappointed. (Which was deliberate: this isn’t a romance, it’s more like a Gothic horror story.)

As for the plot itself, I spent a good portion of the book trying to sort out the narrators and what exactly was happening. (It took me while to really accept the house as a voice, even though it’s clearly labelled from the beginning.) After that, the events are dark and unsettling in exactly the way I’m looking for from an October read, but I think my experience with the book really suffered from reading it so quickly after House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (sadly, not a lesbian book). House of Leaves is also a haunted house story and does that incredibly well. White is for Witching is partly inspired by that story, and although they go in completely different directions, I think that Oyeyemi’s story wasn’t given a fair shot in my reading of it, since I was still trying to process House of Leaves.

I still enjoyed this book, and I definitely plan on reading more of Oyeyemi’s books, but White is for Witching never quite came together for me. I would still recommend it as a queer creepy read, perfect for a stormy October night, but I was looking for a little something more from it.