Last night, sleepless and anxious, while the birds started singing and dawn coming in, I finished White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi. I quickly added it to my to-read list when a couple of twitter friends were talking of fairy tales and literature, because I can never quite resist fairytales and mythologies, neither can I pass up anything witch-related. I love my monster women and girls.
During the beginning of the story I fel irritated and bored by the Silver family, though the unknown narrator started intriguing me more and more, it wasn’t enough to hide my discontent of the haughty cultural references of the twin brother and sister, Miri’s “quirky” carefully constructed persona and the overall feeling of an heavily culturally educated middle upper-class house, who most annoyingly, are unafraid to continuously spike their conversations with references I care nothing about. But the magic and mystery slowly seeped in and before I knew it, I wanted to turn around and sleep because it was getting so late, the book’s eerie feeling nearing the end left me feeling shaken in the dark like a small child scared of monsters behind her back and under her bed. So I had to keep reading.
In retrospect, I adored the slow build-up of mystery from the seemingly normal family to a magical, hellish house. This house. This house is, to me, a lot better constructed than the house in House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, because the latter continually said to me; there is something you should be afraid of in these pages, watch out! While Oyeyemi’s story just happened, which is without a doubt the scariest of all experiences. What is more frightening and feels truly surreal than to have a casually constructed normal life slowly fall apart to madness?
But to compare White is for Witching to a man’s work is superfluous; Oyeyemi’s story is all about a generation of women coming together, melting into each other, forming a monster and invading a young woman’s life and sucking out life to all those around her. Though it’s a magical story, it feels very real, or at least it did to me. It’s a feeling I am scared of, or maybe I am told be scared of, as a young woman, especially struggling with mental illness, just as the main protagonist, Miri. Though you can never quite know for sure. Is this witch-tale what really happened or was it part of her illness, was it part of an elaborate lie by her brother, or was it some casual story to be told on a sleepover when all is dark and you feel fragile? Uncertainty and doubt. The scariest feeling because we relate to it so well.