Book Club: White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Miranda and Eliot are twins whose mother has recently died, leaving them to live with their father in a haunted house on the white cliffs of Dover. They run a bed and breakfast in the rambling old building, but their guests are not the only extra inhabitants the family have to contend with.
The house comes with its own resident spirits: four generations of women, including
Miranda, who moves between the worlds of the living and the dead with apparent ease.
They all mingle with the spirit of the house itself, which also narrates sections of the story
(and these parts are less weird that they sound, honestly).
It all has that trademark Oyeyemi
magic: the effortless blending of the mythical and the real at which she excels.
Some of the most satisfying sections of the book come as we move away from the ghosts in
the house and follow Miranda to Cambridge University. There, she meets and starts a relationship with fellow student Ore, and the gradual burgeoning of their love is beautifully depicted.
Miranda has a condition called pica, meaning she only wants to eat things that are not food.
In her case chalk and plastic. She is literally and physically disappearing, as well as existing on the edge of the world of the living, and Ore joins Eliot and the twins’ father in their efforts
to tie Miranda to this world, and get her to eat some proper food.
White Is For Witching is a coming of age tale, but it is also a ghost story for grown ups. It
doesn’t follow the conventional rules of the genre: you won’t find suspense that builds to a
satisfying scare here.
These are not that kind of ghosts, and this is not that kind of story.
This is a world where the living and the dead coexist and share space with mutual acceptance.
As always, Oyeyemi’s writing is stunning: the narrative can be baffling at times, but the
language is always enough to carry you through.
I think part of the reason Oyeyemi’s books
mean so much to me is the way they reflect the act of reading itself.
Her characters move
between worlds that are real and worlds that are imaginary, just like becoming fully immersed in a great book.
We’re not always sure where one ends and the other begins. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter.