I don’t even know how to begin. This book, White is for Witching, stumps me. For sure this will be one of the more challenging reviews because I really don’t know what to say about it. I’m not certain what the book is getting at it. I still haven’t made my mind up on whether I like this novel or not. So, I guess this is it then. Buy it here if you wish. Good luck with it. Peace out my friends!
Fine, I’ll try to do better than that! Maybe a list of the multiple themes would be a good start. If this book is about anything, it’s about several things. It’s about a college-aged young woman named Miranda Silver. The very first chapter leaves readers with the impression that “Miri” (Miranda for short) is either dead and buried, off on her own somewhere, a runaway without any shoes, or just hiding underneath some strands of symbolism that the author has spun. Three competing entities are trying to assess her whereabouts; three different perspectives; perspectives for which we the readers will come to know the story. (I’ll explain why I am using the term “entities” momentarily ) First there is Ore, Miri’s friend from college. She says that Miri is “in the ground underneath her mother’s house”. Eliot , Miri’s brother, states that she just ran off somewhere one dark and windy night. Finally, an entity known as 29 Barton Road insists that Miri is a home, inside its confines someplace. “29 Barton Road” is the haunted house. It’s also the Bed and Breakfast that Miri’s family operates. It too shares is perspective with us. Since it is not human, I refer to the four that share their perspectives as entities. Four? Who is the fourth? That would be Miri herself. She too shares her side of things. A rather skewed perspective it is! Or is it? We learn early on that Miri is not entirely mentally stable. Is this a case of an unreliable narrator? More than that, the whole book is an unreliable narrative – no matter what you think this story is about, it’s probably about something else.
More topics, more things this book is about (or isn’t – you know, that whole “unreliable narrative” thing.) It’s about grieving. The family at center of the story, The Silver family, lost its Matriarch, Lily. She was a journalist who was murdered on assignment in Haiti. Eliot blames his sister Miri for this, for she wouldn’t stay awake over there in England while the murder was happening in Haiti. How does this make sense? I don’t know, some kind of symbolism that’s lost on me I guess. But after the fact, Miri wears her mother’s watch that is always set at Haitian time. Speaking of Miri, she suffers from pica, a psychological disease that causes one to consume non-edible objects. Chalk is her favorite snack. Readers also learn that Miri was institutionalized sometime after her mother’s death. So the book is about battling mental illness as well.
The book is also about the politics of group identity, nativism, and immigration. A group of Kosovan girls have it in for Miri on account of something she said or did to one of the girl’s boyfriends. Miri insists it’s a case of mistaken identity. She never did such a thing! Or did she? Who is “she” anyway? Who are any of us?
Move over Miri, Ore is taking over the story! The novel dedicates several chapters to her perspective. She is of African descent, adopted by a white British family. She is the butt of “good natured (really?)” ridicule from her white, conservative male cousins. She attends Cambridge with Miri. She and Miri will become lovers. She will visit Miri over the holidays, at her home, at the haunted house. Weird things will happen.
Apparently, this haunted house is objectively haunted and not depended on Miri’s warped mind. Early on in the story, the domestic help quits on account of the haunting. The children of the help have a frightful experience on the lift. The replacement maid, an African woman partial to Voodoo, notices the spiritual nature of this house, but she’s not all that freaked out by it. It’s a voodoo thing, you know. Then there’s Miri and her meetings with her deceased mother, grandmother, great grandmother, etc. in a special room of the house. This same house has claimed to have trapped one of these female ancestors within the walls and has kept her hidden for untold years. It’s a weird house. It’s a weird book. There are allusions to vampirism in this book as well. And witchcraft. The Silver family is white. Hey, what do ya know, white is for witching!
White is for Witching is what I might label a postmodern haunted house novel. Others might be House of Leaves and The Grip of It, both of which I have reviewed (click on them to read these reviews). I’ll assign some characteristics of what I perceive is postmodern: lacking a center, non-linear, rich in symbolism, and experimental. Traits such as these can make for a highly intriguing book, but I must say that White is for Witching is too much of these things. Did I like the book? To a certain extent. Helen Oyeyemi is skilled at prose and her sentences flow artfully. In this way it is an interesting read. But overall this novel doesn’t do a whole lot for me.
I include this book in the Black History Month theme solely on account of the author being a black woman. While this book deals with issues that blacks as a race face (social prejudice), there’s not a whole lot of history going on here. But include it I did, and to that I say “Oh well.”
About the Author
Helen Oyeyemi is a British novelist originally from Nigeria. She is the recipient of numerous literary awards. She has written several books, short stories, and plays.
(The above information is taken from the following sites: