Once upon a time in Catalonia, our heroine, Montserrat, is found as an infant in a chapel at the feet of a Black Madonna. Oyeyemi is an author whose work I love so much, I almost don’t want to share her. Her books are dizzying, enchanted sleigh-rides through fairytale and folklore that allude to and skilfully dissect the motifs they incorporate. ‘Books and Roses’, as well as the symbols of the title, involves keys, mirrors, secret gardens and the enigmatic architecture of Gaudí’s final residential building, the Casa Mila in Barcelona.
Extracted in Granta and available to read here, and collected in the excellent What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Picador, 2016
I’m an absolute fiend for the second person. In this story it’s so well utilised because it ties in with how short fiction doesn’t need to atone for or justify its own internal logic, provided that logic holds together for its duration. In this story, the strangeness and unknowableness of the narrative extends not just to us, the reader, but also to its protagonist. If we imagine the space between the page and the reader’s eyes as a kind of proscenium, the second person allows a character to reach out, through and beyond, to create a shared experience. In this story, the shared experience is one of not fully understanding what’s going on. It’s also a really beautiful piece of writing about intimacy and cruelty.
First published in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Picador, 2016, and anthologised in The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story, ed. Philip Hensher, 2018
The most liberated of all contemporary story writers, Helen Oyeyemi does exactly as she pleases, breaking rules and hearts along the way. This twisted story of keys and locks and love and flowers is a pulsating, yearning and utterly captivating narrative that swerves and feints until it arrives at a beautiful, superbly wrought ending.
First published on Granta.com, November 2014, and available to subscribers. Collected in What is not yours is not yours, Picador, 2016
The stories in Oyeyemi’s 2016 collection are all loosely linked by keys and locks and secrets. This story opens the collection with a baby found in a monastery with a key fastened around her neck. As she grows older, and becomes a heroine figure, she’s suddenly replaced by another. Another heroine, another key. It’s a great example of how short stories, in particular, don’t always go where you expect.
First published in Granta 129: Fate, November 2014, and available to subscribers to read online here. Collected in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Picador, 2016
“The soldiers remind me of the boys from here sometimes. The way our boys used to be.”
From Mr Fox. London: Picador, 2011. Read online