First Chapter Thoughts: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

In all fairness, I can understand why Oyeyemi isn’t more popular. Most people, when reading books, want some semblance of a structure; introduction to a character, a premise, a setting – something they can follow. My first book by Helen Oyeyemi was White is for Witching, and I was surprised by how much the book meandered; for this one, I’m realizing that’s just part of the Deal. Part of the fun, if you will.

So, here we are, in the first chapter of Gingerbread, and we have our cast of characters, but god knows what they’re up to. Harriet Lee is a woman who bakes a peculiar type of gingerbread; her daughter seems to be half-dissociated from the world and also have a gluten allergy; and they both appear to be from a country that may or may not actually exist. It’s profoundly unclear whether Harriet is crazy, Druhastrana actually exists, or both – and that’s probably the point. It’s equally unclear whether or not the gingerbread is overwhelmingly good, overwhelmingly bad, or simply overwhelming. But for all its unclearness, I’m interested.

Oyeyemi has a talent for this. As somebody with psychosis, it’s always so nice to read a book that seems to enjoy being unhinged without trying to drive in a coherent point. You can certainly interpret it, and divine meaning for it, and make connections; but the prose itself is dreamy and odd and bouncing from point to point.

Also relevantly – once again, Oyeyemi is fascinated with eating disorders and issues with food. Perdita’s gluten disorder manifests as her only eating gingerbread and – predictably – getting thinner and thinner as she wastes away. So I expect some more of that as we go, since it seems to be a favourite topic of Oyeyemi’s. I also have a funny feeling that this is just as much Perdita’s story as Harriet’s, but we’ll see.

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