Sunday, April 09, 2006

Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

An intriguing first novel about a Nigerian-British girl who has a mysterious (imaginary? ghostly?) friend, Tilly-Tilly, who gets her into trouble. One of the most noteworthy things about the novel was I actually got a little scared while reading it. That hasn't happened since I was 14 and had to go outside to read the last hundred pages of Cujo (for some reason outside seemed less scary than in). To be honest, I'm scared easily, but by visual images not written ones. I think maybe it was the thought of the young protagonist in danger that got to me. Or maybe I've just been avoiding scary books for twenty years, and this one--a literary novel--caught me by surprise.

But my main thought on Icarus Girl has to do with what I think is the author's one big mistake. The novel is third person limited (to the protagonist) for probably 90 percent of the book. But one major scene is through the perspective of the protagonist's friend (not Tilly-Tilly, another girl). And it felt immediately to me like a cheat. The author needed to get some information out that the protagonist didn't have access to. But when I talked about that scene with others--non-writers--who read the book, they weren't troubled by it. So I entered a moment of crisis wondering if the rules we tend to insist on in workshop (like maintaining point of view) are actually a matter of indifference to the majority of readers. But then my mom said that scene really bugged her and she just couldn't figure out why--so I've gone back to believing in my rules.

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