*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Picador – Pan Macmillan and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories – equal parts wholesome and uncanny – beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.
Perdita Lee and her mother Harriet may appear your average schoolgirl and working mother but they are anything but. For one thing, their home is a gold-painted seventh-floor flat with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread. As we follow the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work and wealth, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that holds a constant value . . .
Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, Gingerbread is a true feast for the reader.
Gingerbread is a surreal, dreamlike examination of fairytale symbolism – not just the titular biscuits, but also wells, the power of three, farmworkers setting off to the big city to seek their fortune – all layered together so as to be almost impenetrable to reader understanding.
Each time I started to feel like I had a grip on the plot or characters, they slid away from me and turned out to be something else again than I had thought. This does not mean that the plot and characters were not good… just that this writing was, perhaps, far beyond my powers of literary comprehension.
I do love magical realism, but this felt more like magical surrealism in many places!
I may not have been able to really work out any of the character’s relationships to each other (so many Kerchevals!), but I did find them strangely compelling, and the story that lurked beneath the talking dolls, addictive gingerbread, and magically disappearing Gretel was an interesting one of family ties and what holds them together (or rips them apart). This thread of family – woven in a complex tangle between the Leighs and the Kerchevals – was what kept me persevering with the story to the end, despite the dream illogic and stop-start pacing.
I do think there is sweetness and sense to be found in this book, but am afraid I got lost in the woods searching for it, with only Kercheval-flavoured crumbs to lead me back!
Harriet’s lights flicker and she hears feet on the long flight of stairs between the sixth and the seventh floors. Skip, step, hop skip, step, hop, and quick exhalations, hfff hfff hfff. But otherwise a dauntless ascent. Long, long strides.
Harriet listens with nothing in her mind but ?!?!
Skip, step, hop, Gretel. Skip, step, hop, Gretel. Skip, step, hope and hope and hope—
This is part and parcel of living at the top of seven steep staircases. Princess in a tower syndrome sets in. You expect momentous visitors, since those are the only kind who would take the time and trouble to seek you out. Visitations from fate, or from one you long to behold. But Harriet might do well to bar the door. If the climb from first to seventh floors isn’t a big deal for Gretel Kercheval, that could be because the longest climb was the one that brought her to the first floor.
– Helen Oyeyemi, Gingerbread
Gingerbread is available on Amazon right now!