Novel Approach: Reconstructing fairytales

“Gingerbread” by Helen Oyeyemi is published by Penguin Randomhouse.

“Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace.” — Eugene O’Neill
It is the traditions, the simple practices passed down to each generation that can tie a family together. In the case of our latest read, based in the mysterious country of Druhástrana, gingerbread is not only a tradition, but a constant staple for the Lee family.

‘Gingerbread’ by Helen Oyeyemi

At first glance, “Gingerbread,” is a scattered tale tied together with vibrant prose. On the second glance the novel turns familiar fairy tales on their head and jars the reader with modern references. Helen Oyeyemi’s latest novel follows the story of Harriet and Perdita Lee, a mother and daughter that can’t quite seem to connect. When Perdita attempts suicide-by-gingerbread, Harriet finally reveals her complicated family history to her daughter. Plunging into the fantasy world of Druhástrana is both enchanting and unsettling as Harriet shares the story of her childhood that was upended upon meeting the Kercheval family. With the Lee family’s gingerbread recipe as her only constant, Harriet navigates the world of her family farm, factory life, familial tensions and disjointed romance in her efforts to find her way back to Druhástrana and her childhood friend Gretel.
Oyeyemi’s novel is delectably strange and peppered with modern references about social media and Ariana Grande that keeps the reader on their toes. Her prose’s biting undercurrent and narrative disruptions prevent readers from being lulled into the comfort of literary predictability.

From the book jacket

“Perdita Lee may appear your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are.”

If you enjoy…

Looking to envelop yourself into more of Oyeyemi’s distinctly hazed voice? Crack open her collection of stories, “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours,” which revolves around keys. Readers might also enjoy her book “Boy, Snow, Bird,” which is a loose retelling of Snow White.