Some books shove the reader outside of their comfort zone, demanding that they look at not only life and ideas from a new perspective but that they approach the narrative form itself from a different angle. In Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi creates a love triangle that spans numerous independent stories, all spun by St. John Fox (a writer who continually kills women in his stories and is inspired by Bluebeard), Mary Foxe (the so-called “muse” that Mr. Fox has conjured–although she plays a much larger part than inspiration by creating her own stories and blurring the line between real and imaginary), and Daphne Fox (Mr. Fox’s wife). Each of the stories focuses on relationships and how difficult it is for people to connect in a meaningful way. At first, Mary starts interfering with Mr. Fox’s stories because she is outraged by his tendency to kill his female characters, but as the novel goes on these stories become increasingly complex and emotionally charged.
Cover and Formatting: First and foremost, I have to say that this is a beautiful book in terms of the cover and formatting. This is certainly a volume that I enjoy having on my shelf. Helen Yentus and Jason Booher, the jacket designers, did a wonderful job creating an interesting cover that is both understated and engaging–much like the novel itself.
Plot: This book challenged me in terms of following the plot. Oyeyemi has created a structure that requires readers to work in order to get the most out of it. I realized, in reading this book, that I may have become a bit lazy in my reading habits and am glad to have come up against an author who doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of her readers by spelling everything out for them (not that the other authors I’ve read recently have done so). By creating multiple stories within the novel, Oyeyemi is able to shed light on different aspects of love and loss. But because she tells most of these stories using the same characters, as if she is putting Mr. Fox, Mary, and Daphne into a room of mirrors that reflect at all angles, the reader has a sense of continuity. This, I believe, is why the more experimental structure works.
Characterization: Oyeyemi has created three characters that anchor the novel, but these characters take on varying roles throughout the stories that they present. As such, there is no real character development; the book focuses, instead, on the nature of relationships. Seeing these characters in different situations, leading different lives, allows readers to focus on their relationships instead of on who they are. In this way, a lack of characterization (or, rather, the establishment of multiple characters that call upon the same fundamental qualities as their original form yet differ in each story) lends to the success of the novel as a whole.
Writing Style: Oyeyemi’s writing is vibrant and jarring, yet at the same time subtle (as is the novel itself). She has a talent for presenting complex ideas in simple ways without taking away from their weight.
Ideas: This novel left me feeling bittersweet, as many of the stories show relationships that, no matter how hard the characters try, just do not work; however, as someone who enjoys poignant stories of this nature, I found this to be incredibly insightful. Love is, itself, a simple idea; the way in which love functions in the world can become complex. But the idea that I got out of the novel is that, no matter how broken people are, or how their story ends, the relationships that they build are worthwhile.
Mr. Fox is one of those books that will elicit various responses from readers depending upon their past and the ways in which they relate to the stories and characters that it presents–which is one of the reasons why I believe it is such a good novel. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in creative writing structures and diving deeper into the ways in which people connect with one another and, ultimately, love.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.