THE ICARUS GIRL
Helen Oyeyemi, . . Doubleday/Talese, $23.95 (337pp) ISBN 978-0-385-51383-8
The story of a troubled eight-year-old haunted and ultimately possessed by family secrets, this spooky debut novel from a 20-year-old Nigerian-born Cambridge student is sure to garner attention for its precocity and literary self-consciousness. The sensitive protagonist, Jessamy Harrison, born to a British father and Nigerian mother, writes haikus and reads Shakespeare, but regularly throws tantrums and avoids social interaction both at school and at home. As an intervention, her parents take her to stay with family in Nigeria for the summer. At her grandfather's compound, she encounters TillyTilly, a mysterious girl who seems to know everything about Jess and who, Jess realizes, is not visible to anyone else. In Nigeria with TillyTilly, Jess finds a sense of belonging and intimacy for the first time, but when Jess returns to England, TillyTilly becomes less comforting and more troublesome. In confident, heavily stylized prose, Oyeyemi illustrates Jess's cultural dislocation, using both Nigerian and Christian imagery to evoke a sense of her unreality. As sophisticated as she is, Jess's eight-year-old observations provide a limited lens, and at times, the novel's fantasy element veers into young adult suspense territory.
Reviewed on: 04/04/2005