Reading Resolution: “White Is for Witching” by Helen Oyeyemi

10. A book written in Europe: White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

List Progress: 12/30

This book had a lot to pique my interests: haunted houses, unconventional point of view characters, queer female relationships. But White Is for Witching, the third novel by British novelist Helen Oyeyemi, has a lot of great ideas that never feel like they are building to anything. The ideas themselves are worth the time, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Miranda Silver is a young woman living in a haunted bed and breakfast with her father and twin brother, following the death of their adventurous, world-traveling mother. Miranda suffers from pica, a compulsion to eat non-food objects, and has just gotten back from a five-month stay at a mental institution. (The book was actually published under the title Pie-kah in the UK.) The POV alternates between Miranda, her brother Eliot, a classmate of hers called Ore, and the house itself as it tries to cling to Miranda and shape her into an echo of the past women in her family. The house itself has absorbed the xenophobia of its previous inhabitants and strikes out against the hotel workers of color and the black Ore, while coveting Miranda, who is as white as the chalk she eats. The idea of a racist haunted house is fascinating, and Oyeyemi, who was born in Nigeria and moved to the UK at age 4, clearly has a lot to say on the topic of generational racism.

But White Is for Witching feels very uncentered. Despite being a haunted house story, large portions of the book take place in other locations, with the last third largely set at Cambridge. Characters can feel completely superfluous, like Eliot, or underdeveloped, like the Yoruba housekeeper Sade. Even Miranda’s pica, which the book was originally titled for, feels empty, used more for its symbolic value and themes of consumption than what it actually means for Miranda as a person.

There is some good meat here and a few genuinely scary moments that landed well. But at the end of the day, the floating, ungrounded narrative left me wanting more.

Would I Recommend It: No.

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