What’s Books And Roses all about?:
In Books and Roses, one special key opens a library, a garden and clues to at least two lovers’ fates.
What did I think?:
Helen Oyeyemi’s short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a new addition to my collection after completing a collection by a different author last year. This collection was actually recommended to me by the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights and I was immediately intrigued, both by the gorgeous cover art, the fact that it was quite whimsical and that characters from some of the stories were promised to appear in other stories in the collection. From what I can gather so far, each story involves a key of some sort and the protagonist searching for something, be that family, an object, their own identity etc. I finished this story with a lot of admiration for Helen Oyeyemi as a writer and clear master of words however I have to be honest, I also finished the story a little bit confused.
Books And Roses is the first story in this collection and quite a lengthy one relatively speaking at just over forty pages long. When it started, I was immediately intrigued. A baby has been abandoned in a monastery with a note, imploring the baby when she is older to “Wait For Me,” and enclosed is a mysterious key which the child, named Montserrat (Montse) wears around her neck. The unknown mother suggests that this was the best place for her to leave her baby as the baby is black and the monks have a statue of Black Madonna in their premises so she was certain she was leaving her in a good place. Then we follow our female protagonist quite quickly as she grows up, gets work as a laundress and meets another young woman who not only also possesses a strange key but is also waiting for someone and we hear a bit of her story. In quite a convoluted narrative, we eventually learn the secret behind the two keys and the way in which both women’s stories are inter-connected.
I’m wondering whether I should go back and read this story all over again as I’m worried I may have lost some of the meaning amongst the vast amount of information we are given by the author. I absolutely adored the beginning, it felt very fairy-tale like and some of the passages she writes are truly beautiful, especially ones set within the gorgeous library:
“A library at night is full of sounds: The unread books can’t stand it any longer and announce their contents, some boasting, some shy, some devious.”
However, I do think that because the author completely flooded the narrative with the back stories of both Montse, Lucy and another young woman Safiye, I perhaps got a little overwhelmed about where one story started and the other finished and how that information pertained to each character. I don’t blame the author at all for that, that’s merely my own inability to separate what we are told as a reader and then see it all as a whole which I sadly failed to do. Maybe it’s also getting used to a different writers style, especially when this is the first thing I’ve read by Helen Oyeyemi. For now, I’ll note that she’s a gorgeous writer and perhaps I need to concentrate a bit more when reading her fiction.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.