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Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

June 20, 2012

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Mrs. Fox, wife of the famous writer Mr. Fox, suspects her husband of having an affair. And he does have a little something going on. But the woman on the side, Mary Foxe, isn’t real. At least, at the beginning of the novel she’s not. She’s a figment of Mr. Fox’s imagination, his muse.

The story jumps between real-life scenes involving this odd love triangle and short stories that Mr. Fox and Mary Foxe send back and forth to each other, a kind of creative sparring. Each short story is an expression of their relationship, though some are so loosely tied that this borders on being a collection of short stories. Some stories have somewhat logical connections, but there are others—a story about a woman who falls in love with a fox; a prep school with dark, violent secrets; an African village under siege—that live in a cloud of vague themes and symbolism. Threads run throughout—names, types of flowers, animals—that hint at an underlying meaning, but I don’t think there’s always one to be found. The overall effect is one of interlocking dreams. Dancing throughout are themes and characters that remind the reader of something else from a different story, but it’s usually hard to put a finger on it. This dreamlike feel is perfect for a story in which one of the main characters was conjured by the imagination of another.

But what really holds this book together and pulled me through it is Oyeyemi’s charming prose and inventive turns of phrase. I received this book as a gift and was going to put it on the bottom of my stack to read in turn, but before I did I took a peek at the first page. It was over from there. Read out of turn, but better for it.

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