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"A Year on Saturn" is the website of Shannon Fay,
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Review: ‘Mr. Fox’ by Helen Oyeyemi

Posted on: January 27th, 2013 by Shannon Fay No Comments

As part of World’s Without End’s ‘Women in Genre’ challenge I am reading a sci-fi or fantasy novel each month from an author I have never read before. For more information on the challenge visit: https://www.worldswithoutend.com/authors_wogf.asp.

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

I would not classify ‘Mr. Fox’ as fantasy. In fact, I would say it’s unclassifiable. I suppose that if you wanted to grab it, pin it down and examine it under glass and label it you could call it ‘slip-stream fiction,’ but why would you want to do that? Butterflies are so much prettier in the air then they are framed on a wall.

The book centers on a love triangle between Mr. Fox, his wife Daphne, and the mysterious Mary Foxe, Fox’s muse who may or may not just be a fiction of his imagination. As the book goes along, Mary seems to become more and more real, but really it’s just a trick that the author it playing on the reader. Mary is as ‘real’ as St. John Fox and Daphne Fox- no matter what might be going on in the narrative they are all characters in the same book and therefore all on the same standing.

Even though I said I didn’t have any desire to put a label on ‘Mr. Fox’ I can’t help but get my two-cents in: The book is an interesting piece of meta-fiction. The books moves in and out of various narratives, sliding from the main story into Fox’s short stories and back, all while re-casting the various characters in different roles. It can be a hard book to hold on to, and it is not recommended reading when you have the flu or just before you go to sleep, lest you get confused between what you read and what you dreamed. The book (I hesitate to say ‘the plot’ as that doesn’t seem applicable here) doesn’t move forward but instead shuffles back and to the side, twisting and turning like a foxtrot. The various threads make you question what is real, but the point isn’t figuring out what ‘really’ happened so much as realizing that all the narratives are all equal. They are all stories, all lies, and all true.

Mr. Fox has a lot to say about the relationship between men and women and the violence they visit on each other, both in the real world and in fiction. I thought the examples the author wove into her work were interesting but I also didn’t feel like she reached a satisfying conclusion. Early on Mary seems determined to dissuade Fox from writing his vaguely misogynistic potboilers, but at the end of the book he’s still cheerily working away on his ‘serial killer accountant’ novel. But he does seem to be treating the women in his life better, which perhaps was Mary’s true goal all along.

Mr. Fox is an enjoyable mind trip. Its fluid structure takes a bit of patience and can cause a bit of frustration, but it’s the good kind of frustration.

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