Daily Archives: June 28, 2010

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

The Icarus Girl - Helen OyeyemiThe Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006

There is so much and yet so little I could say about this book. I have been looking at a blank screen trying to write down my thoughts on this novel for over a week now, but I haven’t managed to find the right angle. This is sure to make the book sounds interesting, intriguing even, and it is. But at the same time, it was disappointing.

The Icarus Girl is about eight year old Jessamy Harrison, who is the child of a Nigerian mother and an English father. She is smart for her age and never feels she fits in anywhere, she gets scared easily. Children of her age usually avoid her, because of Jessamy’s screaming fits. When Jessamy’s mother takes her and her father on a visit to Nigeria, Jessamy meets Titiola, or TillyTilly as she calls her. TillyTilly becomes Jessamy’s friend, all the more precious because Jessamy has never had any. But TillyTilly is a strange creature, she seems to know every little secret and slowly Jessamy realises that no one but her can see Titiola. When TillyTilly starts hurting those around Jessamy, she realises that she doesn’t know TillyTilly at all.

This book is a disturbing read. There is always something hovering in the background that makes the reader feel uncomfortable. Personally, I think the things that occur throughout the story aren’t the most terrifying part of this novel. It is Jessamy’s voice. She is too observant for a girl aged 8. She notices every small tension between her parents, can pinpoint exactly where a conversation is going, or what it means when her mother slightly shakes her head while answering her father. And the way she describes things isn’t like any child would. Too meticulous, too many literary words. It is all too easy to say Oyeyemi made a mistake in writing about an eight year old in this manner, but I believe it is a plot devise. It is what makes the story interesting.

The question that moves the novel along is who or what TillyTilly is. Is she a figment of Jessamy’s imagination? If so, the things that occur are described in such a manner that make TillyTilly seem very real, leaving you as confused as Jessamy is. Or is she a ghost, or another otherworldly creature? I loved how Nigerian beliefs and customs were interwoven with this part of the story. I cannot go into detail here, because I might give away too much of the plot.

It is exactly because this question is so central to the book, that the ending left me disappointed. There is no answer. At all. I know I shouldn’t expect a book to spell out exactly what it means to say, and I enjoy books that make me think, but in this case it takes away the very strength of the story. The last 40 pages or so are weird and confused, until the reader is left without a clue what it is that is happening. And then it ends. Just like that.

The Icarus Girl left me confused in a manner that made me unable to come to grasps with the story. For a while I considered if I had missed the most obvious clues, but I don’t think so. I am not sure if this means I wouldn’t recommend the book. I did enjoy it for the most part. However, I wish I could find some sort of guide to what this story is, or some sort of clue what to make of these last pages. Yes, the story has left an impression. I found myself dreaming of some of the images in here. But in the end, all I can say is that I don’t know what to think of this novel. And I am not sure if I ever will.

I read this book for the Nigeria mini-challenge that Amy hosted this month.