What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a collection of strange short stories strung together by the theme of keys. That’s as good a summary as I can give so let’s get to the review!

The Good 

Helen Oyeyemi has a talent for the weird and wonderful. The stories inWhat Is Not Yours Is Not Yours are each drastically unique and immensely odd. Magical and downright outrageous details are interwoven seamlessly in to each tale. And yet, Oyeyemi’s writing isn’t forced or contrived. Reality and fantasy come together naturally to create a strange Tim Burton-ish feel. The plot lines draw the reader in and, like a haunted house, bring suspense and slight terror at each turn.

The creativity Helen Oyeyemi employs in this book is quite remarkable. In each story, a new world is built and filled with diverse and intriguing characters. For example, Dornička and the St.Martin’s Day Goose, ties in elements of Little Red Riding Hood while flipping the story upside down with a strange goose and a sweet smelling tumor-like growth. I know…it’s weird. As I read it I couldn’t help but wonder….”WHO COMES UP WITH THIS?” Oyeyemi’s mind must be a strange place to live and I say that as a compliment. Her use of magical realism provides space for pushing boundaries and exploring the human experience, with a somewhat uncomfortable degree of candor. She does this almost expertly in one of my favourite stories, A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society. 

Many people write off fictional writing as a waste of time. Such people prefer to read really important works like self-help books (barf). But, nothing demonstrates the capacity of human creativity like a good work of fiction.  The wonder and awe invoked by a creative story is one of the main reasons why I love reading. It has been a long time since I read a book that astounded me with its originality. After a long stretch of intense non-fiction reads, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours was a refreshing break for me.

The Not So Good

I like weird stories but I also like stories that make sense. There were moments in this book when I was so confused with what exactly was happening that I just gave up and grazed through the rest of the story. After reading some other reviews of this book I was amazed (and slightly embarrassed) by the many deep interpretations that other people had drawn from details that I thought were unimportant. The stories moved too quickly for me and it often felt like there were necessary details that were left out. The narration of a few stories was also difficult to follow. It felt like reading the script for Gilmore Girls at times. (I like Gilmore Girls but Rory and Lorelei talk in circles and it’s annoying sometimes).

I also like stories that don’t really have a clean, neat ending. Sometimes a book just needs to end and there is no happy way to do it. But many stories in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours ended somewhat abruptly, as if Oyeyemi had gotten sick of the characters and wanted to move on. The choppy nature of the book was jarring and frustrating to be perfectly honest. The whole key theme was also a bit of a dupe. Keys and locks were randomly (and seeminly uselessly) thrown in to most stories. I guess my only real critique of this books is I didn’t get half of it, but maybe that one of the prices to pay for magical realism.

It was one heck of a ride reading What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. If I had to describe this book in three words I would use: confusing, creative and whimsical. And so, I give this book 3.5/5.

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Published by Born-Again Hooligan