Oyeyemi’s vision is extraordinary, leaping beyond the borders of imagination from the first page in a disturbing tale of twins, death, and the romance of the otherworldly. The images are stark, shocking, dreadful with portent. Clearly this will be a tale to challenge the imagination, the parameters of the ordinary.
A small family - mother Lily Silver, father Luc Dufresne, and twins Miranda and Eliot - move to Lily’s ancestral home in Dover, England, where Luc realizes his dream of running a bed-and-breakfast. A gifted photographer, Lily travels, capturing humanity with her lens. But on one fateful night when the twins are sixteen, Eliot urges Miri to stay awake, to remember all the details of Lily’s existence. That night, Lily is killed in Port-au-Prince.
Since Luc is the outsider, never part of the unique circle of mother and her exceptional children, that fragile, beautiful balance is destroyed. Suffering from pica, the impulse to imbibe that which is inedible (in Miri’s case, chalk) Miranda’s condition worsens. After hospitalization, the girl returns home bearing the weight of her mother’s loss: “It was she who’d fallen asleep and lost Lily’s life.”
From the first mysterious page, it is clear that this journey will be difficult if exotic and seductive, as Oyeyemi spools out words and images that both startle and bemuse. She treads this territory with authority: if there are ghosts in this many-roomed home, I believe it; if Miri rejects the need for sustenance in her search for comfort, I will witness her pitiful unraveling; if Eliot is tormented by the halving of his self, I will sympathize. Real or unreal is irrelevant in this place.
And what is this other entity, this presence that traps inhabitants with the weight of its intentions? Miri speaks of the goodlady, drawn to that myth in self-protection, constructing a place both real and unreal, a world where Lily has not left her. But what begins with sparkling images, the exclusive twin world Eliot and Mir enjoy, the secret communication, a house alive with secrets rather than malice - all this changes as Miri diminishes.
She flickers briefly at Cambridge where she meets Ore, a Nigerian student. The two become inseparable, insomniac near-lovers. But nothing is as powerful as the malevolent forces in the house at Dover, no magic strong enough, certainly not the evermore frail Miranda. She literally disappears, oblivious to the entreaties of brother or father, in thrall to the otherworldly, the in-between.
Like Ore, my instinct is to run, to escape a haunted tale where Miri slips from exotic beauty to soulless spectator, where fear and death extinguish the light, insatiable. For all the magic of Oyeyemi’s writing, I am overwhelmed by the sadness, the vanishing of Miri’s once bright spirit.